With the NHS in flux, there has never been a better time for joint working – but pharma might need some help to negotiate the new relationships. Pf looks at the key role of third parties in bringing industry and the NHS together.
Pharmaceutical companies in the UK might be forgiven for wondering if this is really the right time to engage in joint working (JW) projects with the NHS. There seem to be a few questions in the air. What is the NHS now? Who is making decisions there? What are the real priorities? Going into partnership with the NHS might seem like dating someone with too many unresolved ‘issues’ for it to stand much chance.
However, if you keep your nerve, there has never been a better time for JW. The combination of profound structural change and austerity budgeting means that the NHS badly needs support – and the need for healthcare to shift its focus from acute to chronic illness means that the right ways to transform the care pathway are at a premium. Suddenly that mythical bird of business transactions, the win-win, has to be real.
But the opportunities for partnership are highlighting the culture gap between pharma and the NHS. Meeting on the internet and getting married on the run may be romantic, but it won’t lead to a sustainable relationship. The partners need to learn each other’s language, meet each other’s family. This is where mediators and consultants can really make a difference by providing expertise and experience.
Pf talked to two companies that are actively involved in guiding and building JW relationships – one as a facilitator, the other as an active participant. Three common points emerged from their perspectives:
1. The major changes in healthcare in the UK are creating opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to work in partnership with CCGs, local authorities and providers.
2. The payoff for the pharma company is in terms of better medicines management, leading to the company’s products being used more widely and effectively.
3. Realistic mutual understanding is critical for JW – no amount of rhetoric about values and beliefs will help unless there are shared objectives and ways of working.
Embracing the unknown
Chris Morgan of ZS Associates argues that JW does not come easily to either side: “A true appreciation of the value of partnership is still fairly rare, within both pharma and the NHS.” For years, ZS Associates has emphasised the critical importance of key account management for pharma. The current NHS reforms and the development of the JW agenda have strengthened this argument and underlined the consultancy’s role as a thought leader for pharmaceutical sales and management.
“The established relationship between pharma and the NHS can be pretty toxic,” Morgan says. “ There isn’t a whole lot of trust established there. Before we can partner, we have to earn that trust.” He gives the example of a company ZS worked with that had spent six months piloting a new service idea with a PCT. “The PCT loved it, it worked well for the company, the patients loved it – and then they packaged it up and gave it to all their other account execs to sell, and a year later they had sold none.”
Why was that? “The first time they sold it, they thought they were developing a service – but what they were actually developing over six months was the trust required for the customer to buy that service. Then, when they showed up to every other PCT subsequently, the response was ‘Who the hell are you?’”
Too often in pharma, ‘trust’ is interpreted as meaning ‘goodwill’. That might work when the culture is the same on both sides, but between pharma and the NHS it won’t hold. Morgan explains that without clear mutual understanding “it’s not clear who is living up to their end of the deal, and it’s not even clear to you whether you’re living up to what the other person perceives as being your end of the deal.”
In addition, he argues, “those circumstances for partnership where it’s clear that everyone has something to gain end up being easier to defend, and more ethical, than those JW situations where there’s no apparent gain for the pharma company.” If a company sponsors an initiative in a therapy area where it has no products, two questions arise: does the company have the expertise needed, and what are its motives? JW has to be about “genuine mutual interest”. Quid pro quo agreements are not only non-compliant, but make no business sense: “I can sell you £10 notes for a fiver all day. There is no rational economic reason why you should reciprocate to a value greater than what I’ve just given you.” JW has to generate value, to the objective benefit of both sides.
Another key issue is defining who the customer is, and here Morgan illustrates the value of the KAM approach. “Too often we try and define the customer as being the doctor, the patient or the payer – but the only time you find genuine mutual value is when you think about all three stakeholders together.” Pharma companies need to involve providers as well as commissioners in JW projects, since the most successful providers “are actively going out and engaging with commissioners” to redesign care pathways – and thus are already on the JW road.
The best JW projects, Morgan says, often involve “care pathway re-engineering”. An area ripe for partnership is diabetes care, as its problems are well-known: poor service integration, poor medication compliance, high levels of complications. The JW opportunity is for the pharma company to help commissioners and providers improve care by improving diagnosis, monitoring or compliance, thereby reducing complications and hospital admissions. “The pharma company benefits as well because its product is used earlier, more persistently or in a larger or more appropriate group of patients.” The win-win is not only real, it is flying.
A time of change
Karen Bell, Business Manager at Ashfield In2Focus, argues that a window of opportunity exists now for pharma in terms of JW, and that there’s no time to waste. Ashfield In2Focus provides a range of services to pharmaceutical companies to help them develop and implement JW relationships with the NHS. Most importantly, it provides quality healthcare development managers (HDMs) and key account managers (KAMs), many of whom have NHS backgrounds, to mediate between the two sides and facilitate the process.
There are three reasons why this is a crucial time for JW, Bell explains. Firstly, the drive towards more patient-centred care, the QIPP agenda and the increasing role of private provider competition are all making the NHS engage with industry in new ways. Secondly, the Department of Health and ABPI guidance around JW have made the NHS “less nervous about working with industry and more open to win-win types of partnership”. Thirdly, its new emphasis on innovation has made the NHS more aware of its weaknesses in that area, and more ready to involve people with different experience.
The focus of JW projects is closely linked to the NHS’ need for increased patient throughput, especially in primary and community-based healthcare. “Typically the JW projects which we tend to see succeeding are in CHD, diabetes, women’s health, mental health – really any long-term condition, and also where there’s a drive to keep patients out of hospital” – while “for the sponsoring pharma company it means more patients going into the total patient pool for their product”.
However, the current business climate does not reward risks. Aren’t those pharma companies who decide to wait until things settle down being sensible? Bell’s response is emphatic: “They’ll miss the boat. Because we are now in a time of change or flux, with innovation and efficiency high on the agenda, the NHS is very open to hearing about and indeed engaging in new ways of doing things. Those pharmaceutical companies who go out there and talk about these initiatives now, and those NHS organisations who engage with them, will be the ones who will capitalise in the longer term.”
Even so, why is a mediator needed – isn’t that one partner too many? Bell argues that as a service provider already working with the NHS and industry, Ashfield In2Focus is a key link between the two cultures. It provides experience of working on both sides and knowledge of the regulations around the provision of NHS services. Any service it provides is backed up with the necessary documentation to “protect the NHS, the patient and the pharmaceutical company”.
In addition, Bell argues, Ashfield In2Focus is well placed to bridge the culture gap between the NHS and pharma: “When our HDM teams talk to an NHS customer, they can often be having a peer to peer conversation, and that facilitates the whole partnership process, building engagement, mutual understanding and trust from the start. As many of them have come from that background (we employ a number of ex-commissioners or Department of Health personnel), they understand the world of the NHS, and they can more effectively identify and implement a solution.”
JW projects require the right people to engage with “the new NHS stakeholders” and “to develop and carry through these initiatives and make them sustainable”. They also need to be able to influence local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards, and to “talk coherently around the joint strategic needs assessment process”.
In classical mythology, Hermes was the messenger between worlds. Bell uses a similar image: “People sometimes see our staff as being one step removed from pharma – working for us on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, but not directly for them. Our nursing services are a perfect example of this.” In addition, she says, Ashfield In2Focus attracts and recruits quality personnel for these roles, through its vast database and network of contacts, by offering a permanent contract of employment to potential employees in uncertain times – reafirming the value of the third-party role for pharma and the NHS.