Pharma and Tech: Approaches to NHS adoption - Part one

Monday, May 10, 2021 |

COVID-19 has changed the relationship between industry and the NHS. We’ve never seen greater collaboration than amid a global pandemic. Pathway changes, connecting people 

In our day-to-day work at, we continually learn from people in pharma and tech to understand how they’ve worked with the NHS through these strangest of times. We held sessions at the GIANT Health Tech Festival, here we reflect on what we learnt...  

Three take-homes:
  1. Many of us found new ways of working with the NHS, think of ways to hold on to them
  2. Read up on what the AHBI and ABPI did during the COVID waves - you might pick up some good ideas 
  3. Joint Working is an excellent framework to collaborate, think about how you can share what you learnt as a business both internally and externally
During the pandemic those with chronic health conditions still required treatment, so there have been tremendous efforts going on amongst pharma and tech to ensure a guaranteed supply of medicines and devices as well as dealing with shortages from a national level. At the same time, the agility from industry to rapidly respond to ever-changing needs across the NHS at a local level has been unprecedented. 

What has stood out is the element of collaboration, where previously the view towards industry may have been skeptical, COVID-19 brought the guard down and saw direct and immediate requests for support. Requests beyond a simple payer:supplier transaction. 

Andrew Riley, Oncology Healthcare Lead, MSD, explains, “We looked at what new support and help we could provide, such as getting information out to patients about the new COVID restrictions and procedures”.

However, while the NHS was facing its biggest ever crisis, the situation also threw up a whole host of challenges for the industry to tackle.  They couldn’t simply deliver their usual offering. Boston Scientific’s Michelle O’Sullivan explains, “We had to find new ways of collaborating with our customers, other device companies, procurement, those running the hospital and the ABHI (Association of British HealthTech Industries). We came up with magical and wonderful ways that we could support and serve our customers. Some of the things that we got involved with at Boston Scientific included virtual reality apps so that we could support cases in real-time, but virtually, which was even the case for very close work. What this built was a collaborative ‘we’re all in it together’ approach. Personally, and also from my colleagues and other members of the ABHI, we’re all keen to continue. We’ve had many different parts of the NHS say thank you for us quickly and speedily supporting them in innovative ways.” 

Where industry can really support more broadly is in its ability to serve as a facilitator of learning across different NHS organisations. In a time of fire-fighting, NHS staff have been forced to be focused and heads down. This opened up a great window of opportunity for industry to play its part in supporting the NHS in the pandemic as Dawn Tretton of Boehringer Ingelheim explains: “One of the great qualities of the pharma industry is our ability to be able to connect systems, so whether that be connecting north with south, east with west, to drive better conversations between the NHS. It’s an incredibly busy time and there isn’t always the opportunity to reach out and search for best practice and so working through the ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) as a collaborative, but also as individual organisations it’s a real honour to be able to help with this. We’ve seen some great examples around pathway changes, particularly in respiratory, where we’ve been able to connect systems. This goes across all therapy areas. Locally, we can connect other parts of the system, so there’ll be multi-industry collaboration opportunities to work together. Actually, the NHS is starting to come forward to industry as they see these qualities and the ability of pharma to connect systems and share best practice. But also to bring different qualities and viewpoints to support their challenges. For me, that’s probably an untapped resource and opportunity, but we’re starting to see some green shoots of acceleration.”

NHS-industry collaborations don’t always need to come from above, grassroots projects have often demonstrated the greatest impact and ability to quickly expedite changes through the system as Christopher Gray from AstraZeneca explains: “Quite often clinicians are better placed to initiate collaborations with industry than commissioners are in my experience. They see the validity of being able to expedite things through the system more quickly through partnering with industry.”

It’s likely no surprise to highlight that commissioning red tape can sometimes stand in the way of innovation. An element of ‘pilotitis’ can plague the NHS owing to the need for detailed outcomes data on a case-by-case basis. However, industry has an opportunity to support this process by helping to detail engagement better across the system. This starts with sharing learnings of Joint Working and other collaborative initiatives so that others can learn from each other through compelling value stories that detail exactly what was done, how, and the outcomes. 

This blog is the first of three posts summarising a panel discussion from the GIANT Health Tech Festival. To find out more about GIANT’s upcoming European Health-Tech Innovation Week™ 17-21 May 2021, click here. Enter the code BobHealth25 to receive an exclusive discount on tickets!

Thanks to all our panellists for the engaging discussion that informed this blog series:
  • Carolyn Heaney, NHS Engagement Policy Partner, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
  • Luella Trickett, Director Value & Access, Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI)
  • Christopher Gray, Healthcare Manager, AstraZeneca
  • Craig Mustoe, Market Access Manager, Baxter
  • Dawn Tretton, Head of Policy & Partnerships, Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Michelle Sullivan, Senior Manager, Health Economics and Market Access, Boston Scientific
  • Andrew Riley, Oncology Healthcare Lead, MSD

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