Face Off: Traditional sales versus remote detailing

by Amy Schofield 31. October 2016 11:06

 

 

 

Industry has always evolved with the times, but being at the forefront of the digital realm has remained elusive. Remote or e-detailing, however, is changing the face of pharma sales − quite literally. The question is, can it really remove the human touch altogether? We ask some of the major players in this intriguing face off.

 

Ross MacPhee

Head of Integrated Multi–channel Engagement (Delivery), Europe, Quintiles

Industry reports consistently confirm that face–to–face sales representatives continue to be valued by physicians, and that their services remain important to their practices. Remote interactions such as e-detailing, however, are being increasingly adopted by pharma companies. The reasons range from, seeking out more efficient promotional models – through segmentation strategies – to customer engagement.

Our own market research* recently provided first–hand insight of healthcare professionals (HCPs), following a Quintiles’ delivered e–detailing service.

• 91% of physicians said they are likely to repeat an e–detail following their first experience

• 63% of physicians we surveyed think e-detailing is the future of promotional contact

• Physicians anticipate spending about half of their time on e–detailing interactions and half in face–to–face meetings.

 

We are all adopting more varied methods of communicating as the technology presents itself, and HCPs are proving to be no different. HCPs want choice to suit their mood or their circumstances; what counts is creating valued touchpoints and positive customer experiences through each touchpoint or channel.

*Research conducted by a third party with 101 physicians (GPs and specialists) covering four Quintiles–managed customer projects between July 2014 – August 2015.

 

Karen Bell

Business development director at Ashfield Commercial & Medical Services, part of UDG Healthcare

Sales techniques have evolved with advances in technology to include an increasing element of digital marketing, with the majority of pharma companies now using digital sales aids, and increasingly, an element of remote detailing.

Channel preference is the key here; there will always be healthcare professionals who want to have face–to–face interactions, but there are an increasing number of customers who are willing – and indeed prefer – to engage remotely, via either the telephone or on a digital platform such as WebEx.

Successful co–existence of face–to–face calling and remote detailing is dependent on selecting the preferred delivery method for that customer. Pharma companies need to be able to effectively map preference and deliver calls via the selected channel using a variety of digital tools and content.

Remote detailing can open up access to previously unseen customers, and provides more effective use of the representative’s time. This allows for vast geographies to be serviced by a relatively small team of people.

 

Lee Gittings

Sales Director, Boehringer Ingelheim

The technology we use to maximise the customer interaction and experience is evolving all the time, from sales representatives routinely using tablets, to a whole suite of multi-channel customer interactions. Both aspects complement one another and the research backs this up.

I still think the old adage that ‘people buy from people’ is very relevant, but this does not always have to be face-to-face. E-detailing can add that extra dimension of flexibility around the customer need.

It can also increase the reach of relevant data to customers, complementing the efforts of the face-to-face salesforce. Evolution will involve further use of more sophisticated and reliable technology, which may challenge the more traditional representatives to move

out of their comfort zone.

 

It will also inform and evolve the recruitment decision criteria in the future, while attracting and retaining generation X and Y talent.

 

Nick Lavery

Managing Partner, Republic M! Group

Personal selling remains one of the most powerful channels to influence behavioural change. Despite this, the environment has become extremely challenging with significant declines in market access for medicines, physical access to customers and increasing costs to deliver target activity.

Deployment of field teams has changed with less ‘blanket, total coverage’ teams and more focus on strategic account managers who develop local market access. Remote detailing is a growing element of personal selling, as it is highly-targeted and can be deployed according to specific environmental conditions in order to deliver a strong return on investment.

Although there is a spectrum of deployment models, there are two that are becoming most common in the UK.

1. Maintain reach with less investment

• Same activity levels with less total investment.

2. Increase reach and targeting in Primary and Secondary Care

• Increase activity levels with smaller budget increments

• Field team remains focused on access and remote detailing is deployed to accelerate adoption.

 

As companies move to the adoption of remote detailing, there are opportunities to amplify impact, and the evolution will include customer journeys. 

 


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Features

Raging exhibitionism: Conference stand survival

by Henry Rubinstein 29. June 2016 10:12

Henry’s back with a masterclass in conference stand survival

Help! It’s that time of the year again. The point in the calendar when we seem to be inundated with conferences – those which we ‘must’ attend, lest we fall behind the general zeitgeist of the industry.

I’m so inundated that I barely have time to sup a reflective pint with the editor of this fine publication!

Even worse, walking around the show floor, I am often the victim of the dreaded ‘cold sale’.

I can easily sympathise with representatives who loyally man their stalls hour after hour, as – in a previous existence – I hawked paraphernalia at political party conferences. The crushing production line of insincere smiles from delegates can, indeed, be exhausting.

With this considered, here are my survival tips for those planning to do battle for their companies on an expo stand.

Knowing your audience is key. For older exhibition stand hacks this is a given, but I have come across many younger specimens who totally misjudge the vibe and, as such, miss the opportunity of snaring an interested visitor.

At one Labour Party Conference, I tried to distribute a decidedly Conservative tome to left-wing MPs and prominent trade unionists. I wish I could say it was calculated, but it was pure ignorance, and they didn’t come back. Always remember what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to.

One of the best aspects of a show is the opportunity to meet new people. I recall at one conference I struck up a great friendship with the Countryside Alliance team, who occupied the opposite stand. It’s essential to take a stroll into unchartered pastures. Wallflowers are more common than not at these affairs, and many go through a whole show without striding outside their own comfort zone.

There are actually few better opportunities to establish connections, than at these events. To make it even easier, most have specific receptions and networking periods for these purposes, so there is no excuse.

I often laugh when I think back to some of the absurd situations I have found myself in at exhibitions. Whether it be trying to find duct tape at one in the morning in order to patch up loose panels, or frantically sourcing last-minute replacement speakers from an exhibition floor.

In the face of adversity, however, the absolute golden rule is to keep a broad sense of humour. It would be wholly justified to fly into a rage, but it serves no purpose. Keep your cool, be personable, and you’ll be surprised how effective you can be!

 

Henry Rubinstein is planning manager at Triggerfish Communications. Go to triggerfish.co.uk

 

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Opinion

8 Traits Of Highly Successful Sales People

by Hazel Lodge 21. June 2016 14:40

From Excel Communications: World class training and development

For those in your team struggling to make sales or for those whose sales have plateaued, it can be frustrating to watch and wonder why; while highly successful salespeople continue to shatter their monthly targets and make it all seem so easy.

So what separates the great sellers from the average?  Do they have a ‘magic pitch’ they’re keeping a secret? No, they don’t.  What they have is a resilient, hardworking spirit- complemented by a keen understanding of human psychology.

The good news is that every single trait of the successful salesperson can be developed by your sales team.

 

Here are nine adoptable traits that can transform your sales team into industry leaders.

1. Highly successful salespeople: Listen and adapt. A great seller will take the time to understand the client’s individual needs and then tailor their offering to their circumstances. They never rely on generic ‘one size fits all’ sales pitches.  They do preliminary research, and then ask their client, seeking questions: what goals they might have, what obstacles stand in their way, or what would make their life easier?  They’re also attuned to body language- to signs of discomfort or avoidance that tell the seller to back off, push forward or to take a different tack.

2- Highly successful salespeople: Are resilient and self-aware. The great salesperson doesn’t take rejection personally, rather seeing it as a learning opportunity. They ask the client why they said no, and they look at where they could have communicated their offer in a different way. They are self-aware, so they analyse their strengths and development areas seek feedback from others. When someone does reject their offer, they don’t just scratch that person from their list of leads; instead they keep in contact.

3. Highly successful salespeople: Know that their success is in their hands. High performers work hard- often harder than anyone around them. They set high, determined goals and don’t give in to the temptation to lower their targets when things don’t go their way. They don’t blame other factors-whether it’s the company, competitors, the economy or the product—for their failures. They use those failures to come up with a strategy to circumvent any obstacles in their way.

4. Highly successful salespeople: Understand that trust is at the core of selling. Many people have an inherent fear of being ‘swindled’ or ‘bullied into buying’ by a salesperson; great salespeople understand this and effortlessly put their potential customers at ease. They’re determined and allow their knowledge and enthusiasm for the product to do the selling for them.  If they see that the deal really isn’t going anywhere because it doesn’t suit the client’s needs at present they put the sale on hold and employ the ‘keep in touch’ principle, so they check in with the prospect in question at regular intervals.

5. Highly successful salespeople: Believe in what they’re selling. True enthusiasm is impossible to fake- it shines and is incredibly persuasive. Imagine what your team will do when they believe in what they are selling.

6. Highly successful salespeople: Like people. Salespeople tend to have a noticeable charisma- and though this can be learnt; it’s worth looking at for at the initial recruitment phase.

People like to be asked about themselves, and they like people who listen. Great salespeople are gregarious and love chatting to strangers and learning new things. Opening up to new experiences, attending networking events and making the effort of asking questions will soon become a pattern that reflects in your teams sales numbers.

7. Highly successful salespeople: Have an answer ready for possible objections. It’s easy for any of us to be wrong-footed when a client throws an objection or a product query that you don’t know how to answer. This is especially so when it comes to your sales team. This leaves them looking at best unprepared, and at worst, as if all isn’t quite what it seems. While some people are excellent at thinking on their feet, that’s something that really comes with practice, so initially you r organisation needs to brainstorm any possible objections and the best way to handle them; even down to scripting your company reply.

8. Highly successful salespeople…constantly build their personal brand. They keep in contact with their past and present clients, and request commendations from satisfied customers. They’re constantly learning new tactics from other salespeople and sales seminars. They’re not content to keep using the same strategies, because they know they have to evolve in order to get better. Once you understand the traits of a successful salesperson you realise that it’s not really what you’re team are selling: it’show they are behaving as a salesperson that will make the difference between their success and failure.

 

Are well are your sales team performing? At Excel Communications we have delivered Sales Training at all levels of the sales team pipeline over 30 years on most continents and in multiple languages. You can view the results we get for clients here. Alternatively call us on ++44 (0) 1628 488 854.

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Career Centre

New brand and website for leading UK pharmaceutical sales awards

by Hazel Lodge 15. June 2016 09:21

Events 4 Healthcare, which runs the largest sales awards in the UK pharmaceutical industry, today announced the launch of its new, redesigned website, pfawards.co.uk

The site’s refreshed, rebranded look, combined with enhanced user-friendly content and optimisation for mobile devices, allows quick and easy access to essential information about entering the Pf Awards. Promotional areas within the website provide the opportunity to feature award categories, support companies in the application process, highlight key dates and include links to post-event brochures where you can find out all about previous winners.

Events 4 Healthcare's Managing Director Melanie Hamer said: “We are excited about our new brand, the website launch and the robust information it provides for candidates, sponsors and the companies involved.

"The Pf Awards are in their seventeenth year, and the rebrand reflects the status that the awards now attract. They recognise success and reward those in the industry who work tirelessly to achieve excellence in their field. The new site will allow our visitors to have an enhanced and informative experience of the Pf Awards."

Interested parties can explore the website, read the award categories and sign up for the awards at pfawards.co.uk

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Home Page News | News

Westnedge moves to CHASE

by Amy Schofield 24. May 2016 11:14

Paul Westnedge has stepped into the role of Project Manager at CHASE. Westnedge will join the CSO’s Contract Sales division. He brings with him a wealth of experience gained in the pharmaceutical, healthcare and medical devices sectors while at Janssen, Novartis and Allergan.

 

 

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Career Centre

Pf Company Focus: A hybrid NHS

by Admin 19. February 2016 16:08

The new NHS demands fresh skills and a fresh approach from industry. Naveed Babariya discusses how companies can shift from selling to negotiating.

It is said that the one constant in life is change, and that couldn’t be truer for the NHS as it stands today. Be prepared for a permanent revolution. Gone are the days when you could call on your best customers every couple of months, with a callback to determine their prescribing habits regarding your product since your last call.

So many things have changed and so fast. With the dissipation of Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts and the birth of Clinical Commissioning Groups, the question arises: who exactly are your customers?

This isn’t like other NHS reforms where, over time, people get used to their new titles and settle back down again into their day jobs. Rather, the new system will allow changes to occur more frequently and rapidly.

As an adjunct to this, your customers may change, possibly on a more frequent basis and with evolving responsibilities.

With pressures on pharmaceutical companies about pricing from the new PPRS scheme, and private companies showing interest in delivering services for the NHS, there are going to be definite winners in this race – namely those companies that can demonstrate flexibility and adapt to change early. One thing is certain: the pharmaceutical industry will struggle to negotiate with clients who are disorientated, or who are the Richard Bransons of the NHS and well ahead of the game. So what is the answer?

Deals, not sales

There needs to be a dual-edged approach to the NHS reforms. First, the industry needs to recognise, understand and adapt to the new NHS. There are several phases of change management for any of us who go through a major change in our lives. These phases usually take the form of initial denial, anger, confusion and depression; then we embrace and adapt to the change, and acceptance follows; and eventually a new-found confidence arises.

Once a pharmaceutical company recognises where it is in the change management cycle, it can move onto the second phase of adapting to the NHS reforms. This is where the customer interface with the representative takes on a whole new meaning. Unless the customers’ needs are placed first, you may as well leave the room. It is no longer a quick sell that can occur in a six-minute call, but rather moving on to a new and more mature level of communication.

Selling skills are a thing of the past and razor-sharp negotiating skills are now required. Each call has to result in a win-win situation: the pharmaceutical representative and company have to gain a result, but more importantly the customer has to gain from their investment of time.

Listen to learn

The industry, company and representative need to be seen as a partner whereby the sales of your drugs are a by-product of your call.

What is important, and wins hands down in any industry, is putting people first and business second. A whole new dimension of skill-sets has to emerge in order to succeed in this hybrid NHS.

Understanding customer needs has never taken pole position as much as it does today. Think back to a time when you felt understood. How good did that feel? You probably felt motivated to do more than was strictly required for that person who understood you. Now imagine you are the customer who was listened to and understood by a representative. Why wouldn’t you want to provide something back for the representative, giving a win-win result? The key is that listening to understand and listening to respond are light years apart in terms of outcome.

 

Naveed Babariya is the Director of Synergize Training Solutions. To learn more about how your company or sales professionals can adapt to the NHS reforms, contact Naveed on 07817 218094 or 0845 116 8094 or visit www.synergizetraining.com

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Career Centre | Features

ASHFIELD INSIGHTS: The changing landscape of sales strategies

by Admin 25. March 2014 11:43

As the pharmaceutical business environment has changed and with healthcare professionals’ workloads limiting their time for interactions with the industry, it has become increasingly important that pharma companies and their sales teams are able to quickly disseminate information that is relevant and in the format that healthcare professionals prefer.  To support and more effectively manage teams, many pharma companies have moved towards sales force automation and customer relationship management tools, and have introduced some form of cross-matrix working.

The evolution of the sales aid has meant increasingly more e-detailing utilising iPads and tablets.  The technology put into place to serve sales teams in their everyday activity has resulted in massive data-storage tools used to capture large amounts of information.  The benefits of such systems are often appreciated by sales teams, but are not yet fully exploited in the field, resulting in limited success. Why?  Because sales teams tend to find that the productivity-increasing systems are too complex, with the necessary key information not readily available to them in the format they require, and that time spent in entering or retrieving data is high, compared with the value they can derive from it.  Training has been provided on the use of e-detailing materials via in-house marketing and training departments, however, by conducting In Call Quality events (ICQs) it has been revealed that teams are getting lost in the detail and therefore the basic ‘in call quality’ may be missed. Further training needs have been identified in the actual usage of e-detailing materials in order to optimise the discussion.

ICQ includes selling criteria such as discussing features and benefits of a product, picking up on emotional cues of the customer, actively listening to questions and responses, and asking key questions to shape the discussion.  These criteria are being forgotten as the need to demonstrate understanding of the e-detail takes over.  The e-detailing material does not replace the basic selling-model, and therefore consideration must be given to the provision of training in conjunction with core selling skills, to ensure teams receive a cohesive and rounded training programme.

The move in sales training is away from extended classroom training towards a blended learning approach, combining remote learning such as eLearning modules, bite-sized learning and virtual tutorials, with classroom training focused on consolidation, skills training and practicing communicating data and messages to customers.  Virtual tutorials typically lasting 60-90 minutes provide an opportunity to consolidate digital learning and allow sales teams to ask questions and discuss topics, without the need for extended periods out of the field.  Smart use of remote learning for product and therapy area training allows classroom time to be shorter and more focused on skills training.  These skills are then evaluated and refined through ICQ events with real healthcare professionals. In addition, inter-team comparisons and industry benchmarking empower teams to serve the needs of global customers.

To quickly and effectively disseminate information to healthcare professionals and ensure the account or region is fully optimised, work streams or in-field teams are being formed with colleagues from different functions and different locations.  However, some companies are struggling to get the balance right in these customer facing roles, where the challenge is to ensure that the different functions, with their own responsibilities and targets, work effectively together to achieve the overall objectives.  In a matrix management scenario, organisations and leadership teams need to put extra focus on cross-team communication, defining roles and responsibilities, setting common team KPIs and ensuring clarity on brand goals.

The changes in working practice mean that the evaluation of a team’s abilities through ICQs or Development Centres no longer just focusses on the selling model, but also on core competencies such as business acumen, collaboration, team-working and partnership, and planning and organisation.  This means that tasks such as business planning, account presentations and appropriate use of e-detailing to enhance discussions, are also being incorporated as part of a sales teams’ evaluation process.

In summary, companies need to think about how success should be measured, with a move away from short-term sales targets to the creation of broader goals based on longer-term collaboration and life-time value from the customer.

 

 

The Secrets of Pharma Sorcery

by IainBate 27. March 2013 17:25

Much has been written on the critical skills, technologies, systems and methodologies associated with successful pharmaceutical selling. Bryan McCrae explains why consistent sales success involves much more.

At my company Sales-Motivations we’ve just completed research into the most critical factors for sales success.  There’s been some very illuminating initial results. The two factors which we’ve found to be most important for high sales performance are resilience and intrinsic motivation. Strangely, given their importance, these factors rarely receive attention or development. It’s a sad fact that medical professionals often see little value in technological communications. Representatives now have only a few minutes or perhaps seconds to communicate and, in some countries, are prevented from seeing medical professionals altogether. Where contact is maintained, this is often driven more by sampling than the exchange of information. If current trends continue, then direct access to medical professionals may fade away altogether.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and to keep going in the face of challenges. There are two main aspects to resilience.

The first is how badly a setback affects performance. It’s normal to feel down or demoralised if a major opportunity is missed. But does this result in just a small drop in activity levels for a short period or a major and long lasting drop in activity and performance? How long does this drop in activity and performance last for? It can vary from a few minutes to days, weeks or even longer. In some instances performance levels never fully recover. It is easy to see that the deeper the dip and the longer it lasts the more it will reduce performance. Resilience is vitally important to sales success.

The second factor is intrinsic motivation, which is the degree to which people want to work well in their jobs in order to achieve personal satisfaction and success. External motivators do work, but the effect is often short lived and not as strong for complex, technical or solution selling, compared to transactional selling.  This link between intrinsic motivation and effort, persistence, productivity and staff turnover has been repeatedly and reliably demonstrated in many studies.

‘Will-do’ or ‘Can-do’

Together, these factors also explain the difference between ‘can-do’ representatives and ‘will-do’ representatives. This is often most obvious when there are major changes in the market or changes in the role of the representative – as is certainly the case presently within pharma.

Selling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But by harnessing the latest psychology techniques every employee can become part of the wider sales team. The outcome? A boost to employee motivation, the ability to engage in selling and a boost to your bottom line.

A new approach

The playing field has changed with the recent changes in the NHS and budget pressures resulting in the market becoming a lot more competitive. Sales professionals now need to be able to sell themselves and their products more than ever, show what differentiates them from their competitors and use sophisticated sales and account management techniques to win and retain clients.

But even the words ‘sales or selling’ fill many representatives with feelings of dread as it conjures up images of pushy double glazing and dodgy used car salesmen with questionable ethics. However, this selflimiting belief can be addressed by using powerful proven psychological techniques.

Fundamentally there is an issue around the thoughts, feelings and beliefs conjured up by the words ‘sales or selling’. This is where a change of mind-set can be very helpful. Rather than think of it as selling, think of it as of the process of finding healthcare professionals who need your products to help their patients stay healthy. In return, they will want to stay aligned with your brand, rather than competitors.

By challenging one’s mind-set the lack of motivation commonly associated with doing something we don’t feel comfortable with can be addressed. In fact, there is no need for any pharma sales professional to feel uncomfortable selling. The skill sets used for sales share many of the skills found in many scientific professionals. With a bit of flexibility and creativity these skills can be transferred from use in sciences to utilisation in sales to great effect.

Breaking barriers

One approach that has been proven to be very effective is ‘structured self-coaching’. Just like face-to-face coaching sessions, this involves clarifying what a person wants to change then identifying, exploring and overcoming the psychological barriers to achieving these goals, followed by creating an action plan to implement it.

Taking the example of ‘I want to feel more confident when trying to get a client to sign up for a new brand’, a common barrier might be the belief that if you can’t get them to sign up quickly then you don’t know how to negotiate sales and you’ll inevitably lose the client as a result. This sort of thinking is obviously unhelpful and, if left unchecked, results in reduced motivation, the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and lower sales as a consequence.

But an approach called ‘thought challenging’ is very effective in breaking this sort of thinking pattern. It involves four specific questions:

Question 1: Am I making any ‘thinking errors’?

There are a common set of unhelpful thinking patters that we all fall into from time to time, such as emotional labelling, magnification and should statements. The word ‘stupid’ is an emotional label. Individuals magnify the consequences of not being able to answer a question immediately and the ‘I should be able to’ belief implies that there is some sort golden rule that is broken.

Question 2: What is the evidence for and against this thought or belief?

Do all effective sales professionals really know the answer to every question that a client might ask of them? How do I really know this? What proof do I have? Have I asked any accomplished reps if it is true?

Question 3: What are other ways of looking at this situation?

What would happen if you said: “I’m not certain of the answer, but I’ll get back to you within 24 hours?” Creatively generating several options at this stage is always useful. Pick one and give it a try.

Question 4: What am I going to do to generate a different result?

If you do nothing different then you’re very likely to get the same results. Sales professionals need to work out how to think, feel and behave differently next time to bring about improved results.

This structured approach, together with on-going reinforcement and practice, really does help people fine-tune their thinking and behaviour to be more successful. In fact, using these techniques has been shown to result in 20% more people reaching or exceeding their sales targets.

Testing resilience

Do you know how resilient you, or you sales team, really are? One approach would be to take a resilience online questionnaire – there’s one at the Sales- Motivation website. Once you have completed our questionnaire, respondents receive a personalised six-page report describing individual motivation and resilience profiles and what can be done to maintain or improve them to boost performance.

Research from a recent study with more than 1,000 participants found that anyone in sales can increase their performance by developing their intrinsic motivation and resilience by a structured self-coaching approach.

It works with poor performers as well as helping others move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ and helping the ‘great’ to become consistent ‘superstars’. These really are the secret ingredients of sales success!

Bryan McCrae is a Sales Psychologist, Sales Coach and the founder of Sales-Motivations. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management, a Founding Fellow of the Sales Leadership Alliance and a member of the British Psychological Society. For more information visit www.sales-motivations.com.

GSK to cut sales jobs in Europe

by JoelLane 8. February 2013 12:06

Andrew Witty GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) plans redundancies in its European sales and administration force to help it cut £1bn from its annual European, R&D and manufacturing costs by 2016.

The London-based pharma giant said it will achieve most of the cost reductions through technical improvements in its R&D and manufacturing processes.

According to CEO Andrew Witty, the cost savings plan has been driven by drug pricing pressures across Europe as the recession continues to worsen.

He also noted that job cuts would primarily affect sales and administration staff across Europe, but did not indicate the likely numbers.

Witty emphasised that GSK has six new drugs (including treatments for HIV, type 2 diabetes, melanoma and asthma) under review by regulatory bodies, with late-stage clinical trial data expected for another nine products within two years.

The company aims to launch up to 15 products within three years, he told business analysts. But given the economic uncertainties affecting Europe, 2013 would be a year of “twists and turns” and “not everything is going to go smoothly”.

According to a company spokeswoman, the technical and staffing changes (including redundancy payments) will have a combined one-off cost of £1.5bn, and will primarily be focused on Europe.

A sugar-coated pill

by JoelLane 4. February 2013 13:31

PFJAN13_VALANTINE.indd In the new Pf, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt answers some questions from our readers. Maxine Vaccine delivers a brief audit report on his answers.

The most vital thing to remember about Jeremy Hunt is that he’s not Andrew Lansley. The older man spent nine years dreaming up a transformation of the NHS into a competitive healthcare market system, then claimed he’d had to invent it out of thin air when, as part of the new coalition government, he “saw the books” (which he’d had full access to for nine years) for the first time. Then he drove through legislation designed to break up the NHS and place its fragments on the bargain shelf of global corporate business, and mocked anyone who questioned it. Forced into a cosmetic display of ‘consultation’, he followed it up by declaring that the ‘listening period’ had been needed only to educate the ignorant doctors.

And suddenly, the Tories are faced with the prospect of losing power. Journalists are calling the Health and Social Care Act ‘Cameron’s poll tax’. Cue the new Department of Health. Exit the sneering headmaster and enter the elegantly half-smiling head boy. Who doesn’t half scrub up well, and – unlike Lansley – can say “the NHS is one of our greatest assets” without crossing his fingers behind his back. Jeremy Hunt was a contributor to Direct Democracy (2005), a Conservative Party activist guide that claimed the NHS was “no longer relevant” to modern society because it was a public sector health system. But he can say “the NHS is one of our greatest assets” because he can say anything. Lansley is a Thatcher type of politician, whereas Hunt is a Blair type.

His answers to the Pf questions are classic examples of why he has been drafted in to front NHS reform up to the next General Election, or at least part-way there. He never says the wrong thing. If he can’t say the right thing, he says nothing in a nice way. He makes you feel that anyone who disagrees with him must be insane. It’s only when you compare his words with what is actually going on that things get complicated – and you realise that, as a new lease-holder in the house that Lansley built, he has only unpacked the suitcases for two rooms: the front room and the bathroom. The rest of the house is unoccupied.

Regular Pf contributor Omar Ali asked Hunt a question about NHS rationing: how will making patients pay for services be integrated into the wider healthcare bill implementation? A good question, as this is already happening: patients in many areas are being told they cannot have cataract operations, varicose vein surgery or hip/knee replacements unless either (a) they wait until their need is greater (for example, they can have cataract surgery once they are blind) or (b) they go private. Referral management, which Sir David Nicholson is very keen on, is another form of rationing: if patients want to see a specialist in many situations, they have to go private. Hunt’s response is worth quoting in full:

Let me be absolutely clear on this – the NHS will always be free at the point of delivery and no one will be asked to pay for its services. Yes, in the future, services will be provided differently – public health services will be organised by local authorities, for example – but the founding principle of those NHS services being free, for those who need it, will never change.

Hunt is neatly splitting the hair of Omar Ali’s question. If people are paying for services they are not NHS services, they are private. But money will still be changing hands for services that used to be free. They just won’t be NHS services any more. And that “for those who need it” is significant. It has two aspects: severity of clinical need (already a moveable famine) and ability to pay (Direct Democracy suggests the NHS should become a means-tested state reimbursement of private healthcare fees). Who needs free healthcare, and what free healthcare they need, will be critical issues from now on – and legally, the Health Secretary now has no remit to influence those decisions, which will be made by autonomous CCGs and/or the autonomous Commissioning Board.

Pf reader Susan Ranch asked whether the Government’s recent announcement that it will cap individual payments for social care at twice the Dilnot-recommended level means that more NHS funding will be committed for elderly patients. Hunt replied: This is incorrect. The Government has not said this and no decision has been made. Strictly speaking, he is right. According to the BBC and three Tory-loyal newspapers (the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express), journalists were briefed that setting the social care payment cap at £75k (whereas Dilnot had recommended £35k) would feature in the Government’s mid-term review. But it did not – and the critical backlash from social and healthcare experts was either unnecessary or effective, depending on your interpretation. Whatever its level, the cap appears unlikely to be implemented before the 2015 election.

Hunt went on to say: I want this country to become one of the best places in Europe to grow old and make sure people can live independent and healthier lives into old age. Which is the kind of gold-plated soundbite Lansley never delivered.

Another Pf reader, Leigh Saunders, asked how the pharmaceutical industry could work with the NHS to improve cancer survival rates. Hunt replied: The pharmaceutical industry already plays a vital role in improving the health of people with cancer. I want to improve mortality rates, where the targeting and development of medicines is becoming ever more important. I am sure the pharmaceutical industry will want to build on its work in this area and help improve cancer care.

Great stuff: that flatters the industry, expresses a decent medical aim, and then flatters the industry again. It doesn’t answer the question, but who cares?

Jeremy Hunt’s management of the Pf questions is a masterclass in accessible spin. It tells us almost nothing about Government policy, but it tells us why Hunt currently holds the lease on the house of NHS reform. He knows how to make it look good – and in politics, that’s not always easy. The pharma industry should recognise Hunt’s talents as those of marketing and sales. He’s one of us.

Maxine’s views and attitude are not necessarily those of Pf.

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