Fiona Bride, Director of Market Access, Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK, examines how bold partnerships can help the NHS overcome the challenges it faces.
The past two years have challenged the NHS like never before. COVID-19 stretched services and increased staffing pressures; resulting in longer waiting times for patients. Furthermore, and aside from COVID-19, the NHS is now also facing delays to its planned reorganisation and launch of integrated care systems. Altogether, the system is navigating unprecedented obstacles – how can bold partnerships help the NHS to overcome them?
As Director of Market Access for Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK, I have the great privilege of meeting people working across all aspects of healthcare. It is one of the things I enjoy most about my role. I can be sitting next to the Chief Executive of an English clinical commissioning group at a roundtable one morning, then speaking to a pharmacist in Northern Ireland about solutions to systemic issues in the afternoon. What connects these conversations is a desire to genuinely get to know the person I am speaking with – from the challenges they are facing in their work to the preparations they’re making for an upcoming birthday. I’m interested and I want to know because it matters.
A triangle of trust: credibility, reliability and intimacy
At Novartis UK, we have been on a journey to re-wire the way we approach customer and stakeholder engagement. We recognise that it is crucial to take the time to learn about the people we speak to and be curious to understand more than just the immediate challenges facing them. Creating these relevant, intimate connections is one component of what is known as the ‘Trust Equation’. The other components of the equation are credibility and reliability, divided by self-orientation (interest) – asking ourselves ‘do I accurately understand this person’s world?’ and ‘are we able to have honest conversations together?’, underpinned by a clear and empathetic focus. The result of this builds trust and forms the beating heart of our partnership approach.
The best check for how well this is being realised is by theorising what would happen if you stepped into their shoes. If, for example, you would be able to join and contribute meaningfully to one of their meetings, it is likely you know enough about their situation to form an effective partnership. It is this type of insight that leads to productive collaborations and impactful activities centred on mutual needs, that could support the NHS to rebuild, address the backlog and help the patients we serve live longer, healthier and better lives.
Novartis UK is a bold partner for progress. As part of this mission, we partner with the NHS and other healthcare stakeholders on several bold programmes across multiple therapy areas, including through joint-working partnerships (JWPs) and managed access agreements (MAAs). Through JWPs in heart failure, we have supported the transformation of services by enabling the deployment of specialist nurses who can identify and triage heart failure patients1. This is helping to make a tangible, positive difference to patients. In oncology, a partnership with the Christie Hospital in Manchester and technology company IQVIA investigated variations in treatment across patients with secondary breast cancer and identified the travel burden as the primary reason for the inequity. A specialist pharmacist, part funded by Novartis UK, resulted in an additional 207 face-to-face and 118 telephone appointments in the first ten months of the project alone, reducing the travel burden for patients.
Furthermore, our partnership with NHS England, to accelerate and broaden access to a cholesterol-lowering drug, demonstrates our drive to approach partnerships holistically and go truly ‘beyond the pill’. In many ways, the broad ‘disease management’ delivery of the programme mirrors the credibility element of the Trust Equation. A healthcare practitioner has to look at a patient holistically, getting to know them and understand their needs, then offer a recommendation for next steps. It is this approach that we seek to mirror in our engagement.
The impact of COVID-19 and plans for the future
Like most sectors, COVID-19 impacted how we operated and our activities with stakeholders. Some programmes were delayed, and other deadlines moved. However, COVID-19 has taught us that if we are to bring about real change, we must collaborate like never before. It exposed how partnerships focused on transforming services, making them more efficient, and helping to tackle health inequalities are more important than ever. The right partnerships between industry and healthcare systems – programmes with the same patient-led goals and focus – categorically still need to happen.
Plans to elevate customer-centricity at Novartis UK were already underway before COVID-19 hit. In 2020, we transformed our business structure to be the best partner for the NHS. We now work at both a national and local level to better understand the specific needs of healthcare systems and the patients we serve.
By doing this, we have brought in a new era of partnership and collaboration. But, there is still more to do. We are at the tipping point in realising the true potential of industry-NHS partnerships. We have the datasets, we have the integration and the same patient-led goals. The last required lever is people. And if our people – and those we collaborate with – can follow the principles of the Trust Equation, innovative healthcare solutions will follow.
1 Europe Economics. The Economic, Social and Innovation Value Novartis Brings to the UK. 2020.