As we approach the first anniversary of NHS reform, we can reflect on where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved so far and where we are heading, says Sarah Eglington, marketing services director at Binley’s.
Is the NHS more efficient, is it making cost-savings, is patient care improving? It's probably too soon to draw conclusions at this stage. Challenges and change are ongoing and the ‘new' NHS is still taking shape as people adapt to the closures, mergers and establishment of very different health organisations. The hierarchical structure of the UK healthcare market has always been unique, but it's been familiar to us for many years. The reforms have removed some of that familiarity and we now need to become reacquainted with our NHS.
A lean, mean healthcare system
The health service's primary challenge in the years ahead will be the exponential rise in long-term conditions, with a concomitant increase in demand and staggering rise in costs. With £20 billion efficiency savings expected to be achieved by 2015 – and more anticipated beyond this – it seems the difficult financial climate is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
This will be at the centre of everything the NHS does over the coming years. New policies and initiatives will focus on developing a ‘lean and mean' UK healthcare system that meets the needs of its populations, improves patient care and outcomes, and provides value throughout the whole of the patient pathway.
How should the NHS address this?
The key emerging theme is integration. Healthcare services must reflect population needs, and better integration is deemed by many as the best way to meet these objectives and make the necessary savings. If a single patient pathway is to be achieved, then primary and secondary care have to work closer together to align the two systems, while capacity may also be found by moving around care that could be better served elsewhere.
Prevention and the delivery of care in the home will play a key role in the early detection and management of long-term conditions, as well as reducing admissions and readmissions to secondary care. And seven-day working, tailored services and improved emergency care are also integral to addressing these challenges.
How should pharma address this?
Pharma needs to better understand how the healthcare landscape is evolving and how to deliver value and innovation to the NHS. Therefore, it needs to understand the challenges and work collaboratively to develop a successful model for healthcare that is not just fit-for-purpose, but also fit-for-future.
A new commercial environment and marketplace has emerged with different people taking on new responsibilities. Those who get involved in making decisions (commissioners), those who hold budgets (payers), and those who influence decisions and spend (influencers) have changed. Pharma needs to identify who these people are and what they are responsible for so it can interact, communicate and engage with them appropriately.
Priorities and areas of responsibility will vary from organisation to organisation within the NHS. Add into the mix the fact that primary care commissioning now includes key influencers from secondary care, social care and public health, and we see different customer groups relevant to pharma begin to emerge.
Simply knowing where your customers are will no longer be enough. Customer insight and intelligence is ever more important in determining what your customers do, how they like to be communicated with and how they behave.
Change brings opportunity and is already opening up new areas of focus to explore. The reforms may not mean we have yet achieved everything set out at the start of this journey, but they're definitely taking us in the right direction.