3 ‘Must Dos’ for better partnerships between the NHS and Pharmaceutical Industry

The Lonely Road

Working with the NHS as a Strategic National Account Manager for Boehringer Ingelheim can be a joy, a frustration and sometimes a lonely experience. It’s great to be able to celebrate projects that improve patients’ lives, but there are other times when people make a negative judgement about working with a pharmaceutical company on preconception and that’s really frustrating. The lonely times come as a result of working alone to drive projects through a myriad of internal and external processes. It’s that principle that drove me to try something different.

 What we’ve learnt from partnering with the NHS

Earlier this year, I partnered with the Leadership Academy by undertaking the Mary Seacole Leadership postgraduate certificate course. During this I learnt about the work that the Leadership Academy had done with another pharmaceutical company on the Fellowship programme. I thought that the principle made a lot of sense and started to gain approval to run the same programme at Boehringer Ingelheim. After advertising and then interviewing a number of candidates we were delighted to appoint Fran Lowery, a Cancer Business Manager from the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, to the organisation as an NHS Fellow for 2 days a week. She will be with us for a year.

Fran has been with the company for 5 months and is making significant inroads to enable our different worlds to come together.  You can read more about her experiences here. It can just be as simple as language, and goodness knows each side has their fair share of acronyms! But these can also be so different. A great example of this is that pharmaceutical companies often talk about Payors and in the NHS the same people are commissioners, so even in something so simple we are at odds. We often also have very clever health economists doing economic modelling, but would the NHS be more ready to embrace this if we framed it in the right NHS language of commissioning or QIPP?

I feel that we are privileged to have Fran in the building, helping to bring our customers’ views to the company so that we can respond and be more of a partner. I hope we are creating more moments of joy for both parties. Personally I care deeply about getting it right as an organisation that does business with the NHS, ultimately benefiting patients. I know Fran will bring insight to me and my colleagues at Boehringer, and for that I am grateful.

3 ‘Must Dos’ for better partnerships between the NHS and Pharmaceutical Industry

  1. Sharing is vital – both of what industry has to offer and the best practice that is already in place, ideally with the emerging leaders of NHS potentially via the Nye Bevan Leadership programme
  2. Challenge when necessary – the negative preconceptions the NHS can have of working with industry, and industry can have of working with the NHS, can really make working together difficult. Both parties have to put aside these preconceptions and work from a shared understanding that both are working towards better patient care
  3. Learn, learn and learn again – the NHS is a complicated organisation, so before you can think about partnerships, you have to understand the structure, functions and culture including the language of the NHS, to enable the company to improve its ideas and proposals