The rapid pace of NHS reform means that the pharmaceutical industry needs new strategies for joint working to create and sustain commercial opportunities. Diana Vegh, NHS Partnership Manager at the ABPI, describes how the Association is working to develop a joined-up partnership strategy across the new NHS landscape.
The NHS has been going through one of the largest reorganisations since its inception – Sir David Nicholson famously describing it as “so big, you can see it from space” – and the implications for the pharmaceutical industry, particularly regarding the joint working agenda, are significant. So much so that the ABPI has established an NHS Partnerships Team, led by Kevin Blakemore, with one senior manager covering each of the four NHS England regional offices. The concept has been driven by Stephen Whitehead, our CEO, and was piloted several years ago as the ABPI Outreach Team – which made constructive inroads in the South-West, a challenging health economy to work in.
I am one of those regional managers, ex-NHS and industry, based in Devon, and covering a territory that stretches from Penzance to Margate. The population is 13.4 million, with a budget of £21.1 billion and 110 NHS organisations. There are 1,873 GP practices, 34 local authorities (with three unitaries), four clinical senates, five Academic Health Science Networks, seven Area Teams, three specialised commissioning hubs and 51 CCGs. And it’s a 14-hour return journey from one end to the other. Plus we’re a trade association, with limited resources. With such a large number of potential customers and new organisations, how do we make the best use of our time?
RIGS strike oil
Each of us has produced a regional business plan, aligned to member company priorities, broadly supporting our themes of value and partnership, and clustered around 11 core corporate objectives. These have all been discussed and agreed by our Board of Management, which is made up of member company executives. The most important objective for my team is improving the environment for access and uptake of innovative medicines. We’ve segmented our rapidly evolving customer base and developed stakeholder maps for engagement. But pivotal to helping us navigate this complex structure has been the establishment of our Regional Industry Groups or RIGs, one per region, which meet monthly. General managers of our member companies have nominated senior representatives to sit on these groups, and we are adding associates who will join us virtually, i.e. online, via WebEx and telephone conferencing.
My RIG is chaired by Lisa Rosewarne from MSD, and our deputy Chair is James Steed from Pfizer. We have agreed our Terms of Reference and work plan for 2013, with a series of five workstreams and virtual task and finish groups led by RIG members, focusing on industry-wide issues from medicines optimisation to the Formularies Good Practice Guide. We often have external speakers who may not meet with single companies but are happy to talk to a group – such as Steve Sparks from NICE, who manages the field-based Implementation Team, and who recently gave an excellent presentation at one of our meetings. We also connect our RIG to the national policy work we do, and communicate across the other ABPI teams.
We’ve had a number of ‘bids’ from the NHS and healthcare companies who are interested in working with the pharmaceutical that there is a need for external organisations to understand better what joint working truly means in terms of the ‘Moving Beyond Sponsorship’ work done by the ABPI and the Department of Health in 2010. Our key tool for this has been the Joint Working Guide, and in particular the sections on pages 7 and 8. One of our RIG workstreams is to use these guidelines to engage with potential partners in order to share constructive feedback and highlight examples of best practice that we are collecting from member companies.
We showcased this at a conference with the NHS Confederation in February this year, in London. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the NHS Confederation and the ABHI to work on the Innovation, Health and Wealth agenda collectively; and this national policy work is essentially what we’re putting into practice in our regions.
Rules of engagement
In my day-to-day job and in my meetings with NHS stakeholders, I work to promote the whole pharmaceutical industry and a more mature working relationship with us. The majority of my discussions have been very positive, with a clear desire to move away from the old models of promotional metrics and explore a new way of working. Some CCGs, such as Torbay and South Devon, are striving to be ahead of the curve. Others are more conservative and prefer to agree a new policy on joint working first, and we’re trying to encourage the use of our toolkit and case studies.
But one thing I’m very clear to emphasise is that my team isn’t ‘the’ route into pharmaceutical companies. If an NHS organisation wishes to work directly with a company, of course it can. We are not competing with market access teams – we are enablers and facilitators – and the ABPI Code of Practice gives the NHS assurances about governance and conduct. But some organisations remain difficult to reach. I’m using good examples of joint working elsewhere in the NHS, or pragmatic discussions in other parts of the organisation, to overcome those barriers.
After all, partnership isn’t about pretending that everything’s fine and there aren’t any problems. But it is about moving to a place where you can agree to disagree, and solve your problems together even if you have differences. . e table above shows the framework I base my work on.
On the whole, projects seem to fall into three categories. The first category is disease specific projects, which often relate to long-term conditions such as COPD, diabetes or vascular health. Some of these can be quite broad, while others can be about specific service redesign projects in a particular health economy and relate to implementing new national guidance. The second category is projects that relate to an NHS priority, such as reducing inequalities, where industry expertise in social marketing and media has been put to excellent use. The final category, and the one expanding most rapidly, is where we have shared aims: improving patient safety, reducing medicines wastage, better adherence, realising the benefits of treatments – i.e. the medicines optimisation agenda.
Moving the goalposts
Those of you with a lot of experience may be reading this with a sceptical eye. Hasn’t this all been done before? Talked about before?
Yes. But this time, there are some key differences. The clinical voice is louder, and often in a leadership position. Attention is far more on quality than in the past, and the sanctions are greater. And while our austere financial climate is squeezing medicines spending, increasingly senior people are seeing that it is disingenuous to look at medicines solely as a cost pressure, and far more beneficial to see them as a means of improving health outcomes – on which the NHS is now being more tightly measured. New organisations also have a legal duty to innovate, which is now in primary legislation as part of the Health and Social Care Act. The new Academic Health Science Networks have been set up as companies, and though many focus on the earlier part of the medicines life cycle they will all be looking for new partnerships.
Pharmaceutical companies are also changing. We’ve gone from Share of Voice to Key Account Management, and the skills and competency mix of pharmaceutical field teams is very different from how it was a few years ago. When I’m out and about I’m meeting people with new roles, such as service development managers, NHS business managers and strategic account managers. And there have been a lot of redundancies in the NHS which have seen knowledge and skills move into the pharmaceutical industry. Today I had an email from a CCG asking me how they could second someone into an ABPI member company.
We are in a ‘perfect storm’ of policy, and the organisational turbulence we’ve all experienced is bringing some very forward-thinking and creative people into senior positions. Let’s make the most of that, and work together to get better outcomes for the populations that we live in and for the organisations that employ us.