Oli Hudson, of Wilmington Healthcare, explores how pharma should respond to plans to ‘reboot’ the NHS during the covid recovery era.
There is a clear desire to build on the positive changes that have occurred in the NHS as a result of covid-19 and to ensure that all pathways and services are reformed with a focus on innovation and system-wide change.
Known as the ‘NHS Reset’, these changes are being spearheaded by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the AHSN Network and the NHS Confederation. They have significant implications for pharma’s brand strategy and the way it should engage with its NHS customers.
Essentially, the NHS Reset seeks to drive improvements in treatments and care that will help the NHS to become sustainable and enable it to withstand another wave of coronavirus. Many of the primary objectives of the Reset align with the NHS Long-term Plan, such as keeping patients out of hospital, where possible.
Managing early discharge and risk monitoring will be essential to prevent hospital admissions. It will also be important to empower patients to take greater control over their health if more care is to be managed in the community or at home.
Under the NHS Reset, triage will become as remote, efficient and safe as possible; with reductions in hand offs and appointments to maximise capacity. Digital innovation will be key to driving these changes including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and products that support community and home-based care.
The rise of remote patient management and monitoring will be accompanied by changes in the way key stakeholders work and also where they work. Rather than seeing patients in hospitals, specialists will aim to manage them digitally or virtually with support from multidisciplinary teams in primary care and in the community, who will monitor patients and determine how drugs are performing.
Methods of engagement
Many of pharma’s traditional brand activities, such as promotional calls, conferences, events and education have all been compromised in some way by coronavirus. Over the past few months, digital engagement has become the norm and evidence suggests that, in the main, it is here to stay.
Pharma needs to be imaginative and responsive in its brand strategy and ensure that its marcoms programmes incorporate integrated digital channels in various forms and are tailored to meet the needs of different stakeholder groups, as well as allow for face-to-face activity if or when it is needed.
In the past, cost-effectiveness was the key priority for the NHS when buying drugs. But now it is patient safety and whether a particular drug can fit into the new covid-friendly pathways that have emerged.
This has created a new series of threats and opportunities for pharma. So, for example, companies with drugs that can be administered only by infusion will struggle as the NHS aims to take more care out of hospitals; while those with similar drugs that can be given via oral or sub-cutaneous methods could have an advantage.
Similarly, companies with large field forces that previously relied heavily on face-to-face engagement will find the new restrictions difficult, but those already doing much of their engagement digitally will have the edge on competitors.
New stakeholder map
Changes to the NHS stakeholder map are key to the NHS Reset because they will accelerate closer working and integration. In line with this, we will see Integrated Care Partnerships/Providers (ICSs) and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) take on more prominent roles, while many CCG staff are already effectively working in ICSs.
These changes are bringing a wealth of new contacts for pharma. So, as part of their brand strategy, companies need to re-evaluate who they should be targeting; where these people are now working and what their roles encompass.
Stakeholders will be looking to deliver more holistic care services and become more financially efficient by working in a joined-up way. Pharma needs to think about how its products and services can deliver benefits across the whole system.
Furthermore, with integrated care evolving at a different pace in different regions, there is no one size fits all approach. Pharma needs to map each region individually and tailor its approach to that region’s unique challenges and needs as well as the overarching constraints and implications of national policies.
The NHS has a unique opportunity to deliver service transformation at a much faster pace than anyone would have believed possible just a few months ago and the NHS Reset will be key to making this happen.
The changes most likely to affect industry will be around integration, whole system thinking, clinical practice and innovation. It will be important to look out for these in future recovery plans appearing in local systems, and to ensure that brand strategies are aligned with these new ways of thinking and working.