Distrust is frustrating U.K. NHS-industry cooperation: report

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and pharma industry are failing to collaborate effectively, according to a report involving people on both sides of the divide. The report (PDF) cites distrust among the barriers that are limiting the number of effective cross-sector collaborations.

The NHS Confederation, a membership body for U.K. health service providers, and pharma trade group ABPI put the report together by talking to people working in the NHS and in the drug industry. The talks identified hard and soft barriers to effective collaborations. 

Hard problems include a lack of sustained resources for collaborations and the fact that the NHS is set up to deal with immediate matters, not the exploration of future models. Other people identified the difficulty of scaling projects as a key hard barrier, arguing the NHS has engaged in a plethora of successful local programs but then failed to spread them around the country.

Despite the name, the soft problems may be even harder to fix. The report features testimony that some NHS bodies are “actively instructed not to deal with industry by their local leadership,” plus evidence that some healthcare providers distrust biopharma companies in part due to a belief that businesses put profits over patients. Cases of poor practice that lend credence to that view tarnish the entire industry. 

This diverse set of significant barriers has led to projects failing to get off the ground and falling short of expectations when they do. 

“Industry and NHS stakeholders have in the past been frustrated by the time taken to agree partnerships, concerns about governance and difficulties in aligning system needs with industry offers,” Mike Thompson, chief executive at ABPI, wrote in the forward to the report.

The report identified more than 10 actions the NHS and industry should take to improve the situation. The list is topped by a call for senior NHS leaders to give “a clear signal” that engaging with the life sciences industry is central to the improvement of the U.K. healthcare system. There is evidence that parts of the NHS are receptive to that message. 

“We need to do more and do it at scale. The idea that collaboration with industry and research is mission critical has not been universally adopted, and there remains a danger that this activity will be seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must do’,” Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, wrote.

Dickson wants the NHS Confederation to work with its members and the industry to “achieve a step change in the relationship between the health service and its suppliers.” However, the soft barriers identified in the report suggest it may be hard to encourage top-down change. Other recommendations, such as the call for the NHS to better communicate successful projects, could go some way toward reducing distrust and misperceptions.