The pharma sector must heed the NHS’s warning shot over patient group transparency

As the health sector seeks to navigate the competing interests of the industry, regulators, payors, patients and the groups that represent them, it must also balance these against the broader societal need to provide access to healthcare in the context of limited resources.

The pharma sector must work with patient groups responsibly, argue Ann Bartling and Stephen Day
The pharma sector must work with patient groups responsibly, argue Ann Bartling and Stephen Day

Last week’s PRWeek piece on the relationship between patient groups and the pharmaceutical industry highlighted a wider series of issues and challenges.

The reaction by Simon Enright, director of communications at NHS England, to the episode could well be a precursor of things to come, as regulators take a tougher stance towards the industry by seeking incremental changes in governance and brace themselves for wider developments in the UK Government’s relationship with NHS England.

From the communications perspective, pharmaceutical companies need to be acutely mindful of how their behaviour is viewed in the context of the wider societal and political perception of the healthcare industry, especially with new regulation on the horizon.

Full transparency in their dealings with patients and patient groups remains critical.

There is a clear role for pharmaceutical companies to add value beyond their products, but the focus must remain on the best interests of the patients they serve.

In the UK power dynamics are shifting between the Government and NHS England.

The Government is widely reported to be considering clipping the wings of NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens as Downing Street seeks new powers to issue direct instructions to NHS England, significantly hastening the pace and implementation of reform.

It is also likely that the UK’s departure from the EU will impact on governance of the healthcare sector and, therefore, the commercial position of the UK market for pharmaceutical companies.

The UK’s departure from the EU is also likely to mean that overseas regulators reassess the importance of NICE as a leading regulator, potentially elongating the approval process for new drugs and treatments across multiple jurisdictions, leading to a more fragmented global market.

However, the patient voice remains vital when decisions about access to treatments are made and pharmaceutical companies still play an important role in both supporting patient bodies and educating patients and carers about managing illness and health conditions, potentially reducing the overall burden of disease.

In the current environment, it is more important than ever that these relationships be fully transparent and focus primarily on patient needs.

For example, a number of industry organisations have assembled working groups to address this mandate and ensure that these partnerships add value and comply with regulatory constraints, while fully adhering to the principles of clarity of purpose, integrity, independence and transparency in any industry collaboration with patient groups.

The pros and cons of including patient groups in the approval process is an active and growing debate between regulators, industry and advocacy groups.

Only by working responsibly with patient groups can the industry help to ensure that the patient’s voice continues to be heard.

Stephen Day is senior managing director, international campaigns and issues management at FTI consulting and Ann Bartling is senior managing director, Life Sciences at FTI Consulting

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