Introduction

Many life science organisations want to form lasting partnerships with the NHS. It is only natural to set this as a strategic goal since the NHS is the primary customer for so many firms in the UK.

The NHS does an outstanding job with limited resources but there are still opportunities to improve the lives of patients by pooling resources and expertise for the joint development and implementation of patient-centred projects. Productive partnerships can enable health spending to go further and translate more effectively into better population health. This can take various forms from supporting service redesign, implementing alternative care models, improving health literacy, sharing good clinical practice across the system and the better use of data to measure health outcomes and reduce inequalities.

These aims often align accurately with a customer-centric Market Access strategy and there are already lots of examples of good collaborative and joint working between the NHS and Industry. These case studies demonstrate that we must build healthcare partnerships on strong foundations. These cooperative projects can’t be vague or ill-defined. They must add value in developing healthcare delivery for the benefit of patients. Getting them right has the added benefit of building trust. Getting them wrong only damages confidence.

Here are 4 points to guide the development of high value partnerships with the NHS.

1.      Align on a common challenge

2.      Target an area with novel insight

3.      Quantify the scale of the opportunity

4.      Deliver

 

1.      Align on a common challenge

Any partnership must be founded on common interests. The NHS has its own unique priorities so external partners have to be mindful of them. For example, the move to Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) Footprints means many NHS organisations are focused on building better relationships and lines of communication with other local health and social care organisations. For some, workforce issues such as staff retention take precedence. For others, there are specific issues around waiting times, delayed transfers of care or hospital acquired infections. Each challenge will have its own local champions who need engagement. Often it is quite simple. For almost all NHS Hospital Trusts a key priority is to deliver better, safer care at lower cost.

The starting point is whether any of these areas are directly relevant to your strategy. The NHS has no problem if a commercial partner has its own imperative behind a project as long as it is all transparent and stated upfront. The key is to find a topic that is of importance to all sides and plan a project that directly addresses the issue.

2.      Target an area with novel insight

NHS organisations across the country are far too busy to have lengthy discussions about hypotheticals. If you’re proposing a partnership then they need to know what it could look like and what the details are.

The big question is where exactly does the opportunity lie. Can it be pinpointed? Identifying this is not always simple because it often requires deep understanding of the NHS and its data.

To complicate matters, the easy efficiency wins have already been identified. The NHS has gone through years of hardship, having to comb through its numbers and processes to become more efficient and has found all the ‘low hanging fruit’. There aren't many new areas left to find. It’s also harder than ever for an external partner to point out something new, surprising and insightful as the constant search and squeeze for productivity gains means there is so much familiarity with the issues.

All of this means it is just not enough to have a high-level plan. Detail is essential. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to start with a high-level idea and refine it in conversation with the NHS but some novel insight is often required to even get the conversation started. Without telling the NHS anything new, the opportunity to add value to a partnership could be lost. What is left could eventually end up being a little one-sided and based solely acting as a delivery partner for plans the NHS has already identified rather than a plan it co-created with you.

3.      Quantify the scale of the opportunity, credibly

Opportunity costs matter more in a system under intense financial pressure. What is the cost of an action compared to the next best alternative? Should a hospital invest in a brand new interventional cardiology system that potentially reduces time per TAVI procedure or upgrade its outpatient clinics to see more ophthalmology patients and reduce its waiting lists?

Putting concrete figures against these choices before benchmarking and forecasting them is vital for NHS decision makers who insist on thorough business cases for large expenditure. There’s typically not enough money left for invest-to-save projects. It’s often about diverting spending that is already projected. It’s about relating a proposed investment in a solution to definite in-year efficiency savings. It’s about adding value across the entire pathway. If you are able to quantify the scale of the opportunity of working together simply then it is likely that NHS leaders will be interested to know more.

It isn’t necessary to have a complicated model. In fact, simplicity is key. What is the cost of inaction (known as the ‘do nothing’ scenario)? What options are available? Does one option stand out? Do the numbers stack up? How long before it recoups investment?

The proviso is that the work to quantify matters is all done robustly and that the methodology is credible and stands up well to scrutiny. This means working in line with guidance from relevant bodies such as NHS England, NHS Digital, Office for National Statistics, NHS Improvement, National Casemix Office etc.

4.      Deliver

The one element that matters most is delivery. There needs to be a relentless focus on it. If you deliver what you promised within the timescales you promised then your standing will rise exponentially. If not, then it is definitely better not to have started. Healthcare professionals have long memories and the history of the NHS is littered with stories of external partners over-promising but ultimately disappointing.

Some of this can be avoided by choosing a project that is manageable in the first place. While it might be appear to be best to start off with a small project and limit scope to ensure delivery there needs to be a balance in case the project isn’t ambitious enough to get the NHS interested.

Measurement is huge part of delivery. How do we know that we delivered? What were the critical success factors? What effort did we put in? What did we get out? There needs to be a measurable payoff that is worth all the effort.

Conclusion

High value partnerships with the NHS aren’t just possible, they’re positively encouraged.

There’s a reason why it’s a cornerstone of so many successful Market Access strategies. Without some degree of collaboration and partnership it's not difficult to see why the door often remains closed to discussions around access and uptake.

Creative collaboration can support the delivery of enhanced patient care and ensure a range of positive outcomes for patients including improved access to innovative treatment and better population health. It just has to be thought through carefully and delivered to unlock the most value.

Hassan Chaudhury, is a member of the PM Society Market Access Group and is Chief Commercial Officer and Co-Founder, Health iQ - Leaders in Real World Data