NHS focus on early diagnosis could be the golden ticket for Pharma

A recent report by NHS Providers sheds light on the significant progress being made by some of the provider collaboratives who are really starting to work on how they enhance the capacity and facilitate the fulfilment of some key NHS priorities and objectives.

You can read the full report here: https://nhsproviders.org/provider-collaboratives-building-capacity-community-diagnostic-centres

But I want to zoom in on a couple of specific sections because this is the first in a series of what will be eight reports and it focuses on community diagnostic centres.

As part of my work as an NHS management consultant, I’m often being asked to help facilitate the work of the full provider collaboratives and I’m doing a lot of work with the primary care provider collaboratives as well right now.

Seven million checks and counting

The report above underlines the pivotal role of provider collaboratives in looking at the capacity on offer in diagnostics. This is most noticeable in the community diagnostic centres (CDCs), with 155 currently operational, administering a wide range of different tests, screenings and scans.

That includes ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and cancer scans, all being offered in those centres.

Just a couple of weeks ago, NHS England further underscored the impact of CDCs by highlighting that they have conducted more than seven million checks nationwide.

Also highlighted was the imminent integration of AI scanners which the NHS is poised to bring in to further bolster that diagnostic capability.

The broader community diagnostic centre initiative is backed by a portion of the £ 2.3 billion capital injection earmarked for diagnostic transformation. That’s the most substantial financial allocation toward MRI and CT scanning the NHS has ever had.

Huge digital investment will help thousands

The whole point of this focus on CDCs is to try to speed up the diagnostic process and thus alleviate pressures on the NHS as a whole. Patients waiting in diagnostic queues often go back to general practice just to see if they can get their appointment sped up.

The unveiling of further investment for the 100 AI scanners came from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his Spring Budget. They will enhance diagnostic capacity and the precision of the scans and are designed to benefit around 130,000 patients each year.

The funding comes from the £4.2 billion Public Sector Productivity Plan, which earmarked £3.4 billion to double the NHS’s investment in digital transformation. This includes IT upgrades and AI integration.

Diagnostic delays pile work back onto the NHS

From a Pharma, MedTech and Device industry perspective, we need to keep in mind that the best estimates are that we’ve got around seven million people on NHS waiting lists – roughly five million of those are awaiting diagnostics.

Delayed diagnostics mean delayed treatment, and I often highlight that the lack of diagnostic capacity actually drives workload into the NHS. People waiting feel unwell, they go back to their GP, the urgent treatment centre, the out-of-hours provider or they’ll turn up at accident and emergency.

This is where the CDCs were designed to sit – they provide early and correct diagnosis leading to early and correct treatment which results in a reduction in unnecessary appointments, referrals and non-elective admissions as the patients get a much better outcome.

I know from my work with Pharma, MedTech and Device companies that there is frustration that patients can’t get to the point of treatment because they haven’t had their diagnosis. That’s a frustration shared by many of my general practice customers as they spend a lot of time being asked by patients if they can speed up the outpatient and/or the diagnostic appointments.

But, of course, they can’t do that. It’s all hospital-based. The way some of my GP, primary care network and GP federation customers have dealt with that is to form a collaboration with the local hospital.

For some, they’ve moved diagnostic tests that are not in the diagnostic centres away from hospitals and into primary care. This is properly funded and resourced work – it’s usually on 70% of the NHS payment system tariff. I do have one or two on a higher percentage, as they’re solving very big problems for hospitals.

Read my blog: Five points for feedback best practice in NHS and Pharma

Industry’s big role in delivering the right treatment

They also solve the problem of wasted appointments in practices. This is because there is little or no waiting time to get the tests completed as they’re available right there in the practices, rather than relying on hospitals.

Many of these particular projects have got industry partners working alongside, training, educating and upskilling the teams. Often they work across primary and secondary care as part of a team to redesign the pathway to drive at the heart of early and correct diagnosis. This leads to early and correct treatment reducing unnecessary appointments, referrals and, the big one, non-elective admissions.

Hospitals routinely ask me what I’ve got that could help reduce the burden of non-elective admissions, they want to know what they could work on with primary care to help that situation.

I’ve got some great examples of hospitals subcontracting things like 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, Holter ECGs, insulin initiation and titration for diabetes, as well as GLP-1 initiation.

We’ve got projects in ear, nose and throat with microsuction and ear irrigation, allergy treatments, six different aspects of gynaecology, wound care and many, many more.

These are just some examples of what can happen when you get primary care and the hospitals collaborating and getting the right patients seen at the right time, in the right place, by the right healthcare professional who’s got the right resources to deliver the care that’s required.

General practice cannot take on unfunded work – as I wrote about in a previous newsletter – but where they can take on a proper service that’s properly resourced, general practice is excellent at stepping up to the plate and filling in the void.

Don’t forget to leave your product out of the initial pitch

Industry partners are often woven throughout these services because they took the time to understand the problem and then were part of the team that helped create the solution.

There is ample opportunity out there, you just sometimes have to think about problems in a slightly different way. Park the product, look at the problem that you can help solve for the NHS and that will open the door to the product conversation.

Read my blog here on getting your product messaging right

Leading with the product usually means you end up with a customer who then has to try to work out what they would do with it. They don’t have the thinking time. Customers have said to me: “If the industry comes in and gives me a heavy product sell, the minute they walk out, I’ve forgotten we’ve even had a conversation.”

They want you to come in and position the problem that you can solve – that’s always the key to a successful pitch.

Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology and appliance firms get their products and services in front of the right NHS decision makers. He helped to land no fewer than 53 new projects with the NHS in 2023 alone and has now developed a 12-month mentorship programme that helps individuals and teams get straight to the heart of the challenges of selling to the NHS.  If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways, Scott can help. Get unprecedented access to key customer insights, proven tools, resources and strategies, plus 1-2-1 coaching and decision-maker introductions to finally get your project over the line. Find out more here.