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Second Coming

Did you have a row with the other half over Christmas? If you did you are in good company

The financial plight of the NHS is a fantastic opportunity for the industry

Did you have a row with the other half over Christmas? If you did you are in good company. Apparently a third of serious family bust-ups start over the Christmas period. Must be the season of joy and goodwill!

Did you get another pair of socks? Some scarlet underwear you wouldn't be seen dead in? I'm told Marks and Sparks take on extra staff after Christmas to deal with what they euphemistically call `returns'. The stuff we take back because it doesn't fit, it's the wrong colour or because it's rubbish.

What about that must-have toy for the kids? Did you forget the batteries? Ouch, I bet you were popular. Taking them out of the TV remote wasn't such a good idea was it? Granny can't channel-change to the Queen's message when little ankle-biter wants to play with the electric car. Oh, tears before teatime!

Then there is the waistline. For some inexplicable reason, waistlines grow over Christmas. They take on a life of their own. In January memberships for leisure centres and gyms are doubled by hopefuls looking for a six-pack, or trying to be a size eight by August. They'd be better off spending their money on a lock for the fridge.

About now you are probably getting the credit card bills plopping onto the door-mat. Innocent envelopes with wickedness inside. Blood-red printing. How did you manage to spend all that?

The last-minute dash to the off-licence - that was expensive, wasn't it? Oh, and the panic visit to the perfume counter. I know, the biggest and most classy bottle of smelly water, snatched out of desperation, because it came ready gift wrapped. I've done it!

Solutions cost money and the nearer the deadline, the more they cost. Business and Christmas: they're just the same.

Funny, isn't it, how senior, level-headed execs, responsible for millions and who make decisions that can impact on careers and investment strategies for lifetimes, empty their wallets and purses in the couple of days before Christmas. We get stuff we don't want from people for whom we've bought stuff they don't want.

This time there was a new wheeze for the desperate. One of the charities came up with the idea of flogging us livestock and lavatories for Africa.

The recipient gets a Christmas card with a cute picture of an African child looking happy. I know because this year I got two donkeys, a bog, 300 school dinners, a dozen maths text books and a share in a tractor. I must be difficult to buy for.

Round two
Well, I have news. News for all you Christmas lovers and Xmas haters. This year there will be two Christmases. In fact, all your Christmases have come at once.The NHS is in deep money trouble and it is your birthday, Christmas and New Year rolled into one. Celebrate!

The Treasury is focusing on health service productivity and on big variations in the cost of treatment, length of stay, and how intensively hospital resources are used.

In addition, the Department of Health is incentivising GPs to keep patients out of hospital.

There's more. In order to cut back on Primary Care Trust (PCT) spending, the Department of Health wants more treatments to take place outside hospitals.

If this doesn't look like you've won the Lottery, why am I not surprised? Pharma bosses know almost nothing about the NHS and marketers know even less.

The industry is still consumed with finding the next big drug the NHS can't afford, then spending millions on marketing it to GPs who are no longer allowed to change their prescribing choices.

However, a lot of middle-ranking pharma folk know a lot about the NHS. The bright ones will realise this is a confluence of events that must have been sent by a divine hand. It is a blessing.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go downstairs and ask bright middle pharma - and listen to them. If you are downstairs, go upstairs, kick open the door and shout: It's time we listened to Roy Lilley! In truth, the second idea is not really recommended but it gets my name around!

Good news
Listen up. Move to the edge of your seat.

I will say this only once. The fact that the NHS is in deep financial trouble is great news for pharma. If the Department of Health sees part of the solution as moving treatments out of hospitals and getting GPs to really do more stuff, this is a great opportunity for pharma.

Here's why: if you have a product that cuts time in hospital, has delivery mechanisms that can be used or adapted for use in a community setting, or can be used to avoid hospital in-patient days, it is bonanza time.

Don't go running to the artistic bloke with Photoshop on his computer; find a health economist with Excel on his laptop. Investigate, demonstrate, compute and analyse realtime savings in care delivery that using your product can truly bring.

Prove them, make them watertight and if you can get a university professor to agree with you, build a marketing campaign aimed solely at chief executives and FDs. Make the campaign simple: Use our stuff and we'll save you 200 bed days a year.

Get PCT performance data (if you don't know how to, ask the middle pharma bod), and see what specific problems they are having. Aim the campaign at them, locally. Advertise in the local papers, management/finance press and tailor mail-shots to them. Talk about their problems and give them real solutions.

If you have a national marketing strategy, tear it up and sack whoever wrote it. While you are about it, get rid of anyone with 'national' in their title. Nothing is national any more. It is not a national health service, it's a general health service, delivered by the neighbourhood healthcare professionals.

The Author
Roy Lilley is a healthcare author and broadcaster

2nd September 2008

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