Medical Personnel in a meeting with Pharmaceutical sales

After more than a year on the front line of this country’s battle against Covid-19, the NHS is facing yet another enormous challenge – meeting the care demands and reducing the backlogs that have arisen out of the pandemic.

The NHS Operating Guidance for 2021/22 was published at the end of March. It spells out a clear goal to develop Integrated Care Systems and restore services to where they were before Covid hit and even develop them beyond that.

The implications for the pharmaceutical, medical technology and device industries are clear and wide-ranging. The problem is how do these industries target the right people and use the right messages to get through the door? There’s a huge opportunity for industry to support the restoration of NHS services with projects, technology and people. But there’s also a considerable risk that it will miss out if it doesn’t know how to engage.

Key priorities of the Operating Guidance

As we’ve seen, developing integrated care systems throughout the next year to meet the expectations set out in the government white paper is a key priority of the Operating Guidance. This is envisaged to become law by April 2022.

Another major pillar is the transformation of community, urgent and emergency care to prevent inappropriate attendance at Accident and Emergency units.

But throughout the guidance lies a strong recurring theme – supporting the health and wellbeing of staff.

The NHS workforce is currently running on empty delivering against the Covid-19 pandemic. This is often missed, particularly as the guidance states, “we would expect they are required to continue delivering the NHS COVID vaccination programme and continuing to meet the needs of patients with COVID-19”.

As this article highlights, GP workloads have risen exponentially. GPs and their teams “have delivered around 75% of COVID-19 vaccinations in England, while striving to continue business as usual as much as possible.”

Building on what the NHS has learned during the pandemic, there is a goal to transform the delivery of services to enable them to restore levels of elective and cancer care while also managing an ever-increasing demand on mental health services.

As we know, recruitment and retention is a massive issue for the NHS. Essentially, there is too much work for too few people. This requires new ways of working, which also links to a desire to expand primary care capacity to improve access, local health outcomes and address health inequalities. Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are crucial here, they are all expected to have in place their share of 15,500 full-time employees by the end of the year, and they will spearhead work within communities to address health inequalities.

Identifying the opportunities for collaborative partnerships

For these priorities to be addressed, systems will need to operate collaboratively, requiring effective partnership working across the board. We will see the development of provider collaboratives and place-based partnerships, which will also include integration with local government. This is the level at which there will be opportunity for industry.

But to make the most of these opportunities, industry must get to grips with place-based care, who the people are and what language to use to access and engage them. Simply focusing at system level is not going to work as a significant element of the budget will be delegated to place, which is where we will see local spending decisions being made.

Services not just restored but improved

The NHS wants to strip out unwarranted variation in access and outcomes. This is where a high quality and standardised complete pathway approach, without unwarranted variation, is the key. The pathways will then place the right patient, in the right place, at the right time, with the right healthcare.

The guidance highlights a desire to redesign clinical pathways to increase productivity and accelerate progress on digitally-enabled care.

In order to maximise your opportunities here, it is essential that you make sure you offer plays on one of those agendas.

Alternatively, identify how you can support systems as they draw up delivery plans across elective inpatient, outpatient and diagnostic services for adults and children.  

Expanding primary care capacity to improve access, local health outcomes and address health inequalities builds upon the NHS Long Term Plan commitments and requires:

  1. Restoring and increasing access to primary care services 
  2. Implementing population health management and personalised care approaches to improve health outcomes
  3. Addressing health inequalities  
  4. Transforming community services and avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions, and improving flow, in particular on the emergency pathway.

Digital and data opportunities await

As the NHS moves to develop the underpinning digital and data capability to support population-based health, there will undoubtedly be opportunities here for the industry.

As part of this, and due imminently, we have NHSX about to publish a new framework, What Good Looks Like, to support the digital and data capability. There is a significant desire for locally joined-up person-level data across health and care partners, further underpinned by robust analytical capability aligned across system partners.

As part of this, systems should commence their procurement of a shared care record with a desire to have a minimum viable product live in September.

There is so much for the industry to learn from the Operating Guidance and then convert to a way of improving engagement and working with the NHS. If you have any questions on this increasingly important topic, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or schedule a call.

Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology, and device firms increase revenue by getting their products and services in front of the right NHS decision makers. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways, we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too. Download your free guide: Click here

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