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A new era in European Parliament: policymakers need to hear from pharma

by Nick Hoile

Nick Hoile

We’ve all read the headlines: Europe’s political climate is becoming more volatile and unpredictable. 

The established parties of government are struggling to stay relevant. Voters are deserting the centre ground and looking for alternative leadership from politicians further to the left and right.

The trend is playing out in national elections across the continent and May’s elections for the European Parliament provided a stark example of these changing voting patterns. The two centrist political groups lost their majority for the first time in forty years, while the nationalist right and the green left both gained ground.

The decline of the political consensus is already causing a headache for pharma, as public attitudes to industry involvement in healthcare cool and populist politicians propagate anti-scientific narratives. But these shifting political sands also provide an opportunity for pharma to communicate differently with policymakers, engaging collaboratively to develop solutions to the major public health challenges they face.

Helping policymakers navigate healthcare

The surge of support for new, less centrist parties at a European level has led to an intake of policymakers with little or no understanding of the highly technical healthcare sector, just when subject- specific expertise is needed the most.

The pace of change in healthcare is accelerating. Rapid advancements in our understanding of disease have led to an exponential growth in scientific knowledge and proliferation of new medical technologies entering the market. But in many cases their benefits will only be realised if policymakers take action to ensure that healthcare systems can keep up.

Policymakers increasingly want – and expect – pharma to share the information and insights they need to achieve the most from their investment in new medicines, particularly when pipeline products would require a significant budget allocation or change to the design and delivery of healthcare services if they were licensed.

If we consider the new European Parliament, several subject specialists have stood down and about half of the MEPs elected in May are serving for the first time. They will soon be asked for their input on highly complex proposals on healthcare technology appraisals, vaccination programmes and priorities for research funding, all of which could have a profound impact across the continent for decades to come. Constructive and sustained dialogue with industry will be essential to ensuring that policymakers have all the evidence they need to make truly informed decisions.

Partnership is essential to improve health for humankind

Many of the insurgent political parties are not natural allies of pharma. Green parties,for example, tend to be critical of the cost of medicines, while others on the right have disparaged the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccinations. Yet, given the current balance of influence across the continent, industry should resist the temptation to engage only with policymakers they already know well. In the new European Parliament, where proposals will need to win support from four party groupings in order to pass with a majority, building new relationships and creating new advocates will be essential.

When communicating with policymakers, particularly those from parties outside the established mainstream, there are three things that pharma should keep front of mind:

1. It is appropriate and legitimate for pharma to reach out to policymakers. The industry has a unique understanding of advances in medicine and an abundance of data on the burden of disease. When pharma has relevant information or insights that could help policymakers design and deliver services that improve patient experience and outcomes, the responsible thing to do is to share it – not sit on it.

2. Policymakers are often lay people who are likely to need help to get to grips with the intricacies of the proposals that they are being asked to consider. Pharma can play a constructive role in supporting them by sharing appropriate information, explaining complex concepts clearly and succinctly, challenging misperceptions of the way industry operates, and providing opportunities to connect policymakers with expert scientists, healthcare professionals or patient groups.

3. Pharma is well placed to use its networks and resources to build consensus on policy solutions for the challenges that healthcare systems are facing. It often has access to a wealth of evidence on interventions that have been tried and tested in different countries, enabling it to act as a constructive partner and provide policymakers with robust evidence of what works and how successful interventions can be replicated in other countries.

In the current fragmented political environment, when it is easier than ever for policymakers to be left behind by the pace of change, it is essential for pharma to engage with policymakers across the political spectrum to ensure that healthcare continues to improve for all.

Nick Hoile, Director of Government Affairs at Publicis Resolute

In association with

Publicis Resolute

5th August 2019

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