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How can pharma engage with NHS Vanguards?

Sue Thomas and Paul Midgley, of Wilmington Healthcare, explore the opportunities for pharma to help NHS vanguards develop new models of care.

Vanguards are individual organisations and partnerships that have been asked to trial new ways of running primary and secondary care services in their local area as part of the NHS’s Five Year Forward View (FYFV).

Vanguards aim to make health services more accessible and more effective for patients by dismantling NHS care pathways that are no longer working well and taking a fresh approach to service design.

Better communication and joined up working between different parts of the NHS, including GP and hospital services, emergency services and community-based organisations, are integral to this new approach.  

Earlier this year, NHiS Commissioning Excellence, which is part of Wilmington Healthcare, organised an advisory panel discussion, involving eight vanguards, including four multispecialty community providers, a GP super-practice and an acute care collaboration.  Representatives shared their experiences and discussed planned initiatives and objectives.

Our subsequent report entitled ‘The Role of Vanguards in the Development of New NHS Commissioning Structures’, provides fascinating evidence of how NHS vanguards are redefining patient pathways and trialling new ways of working.

How can pharma get involved with vanguards?

Rather than asking vanguards how it can help, pharma should offer tailored solutions that fill clearly identified needs. For example, if a vanguard is working in a disease area that is relevant to your company, then find out what you can do to help. However, try to be generic in your approach, since many vanguards want to tackle wider issues around diseases. For example, pharma could identify how many people with epilepsy use A&E following a seizure, but the wider vanguard perspective could be to risk stratify why any patients, including those with epilepsy, attend A&E.

Pharma could also identify new issues. For example, NHiS identified a huge number of emergency hospital admissions for urinary tract infections in several NHS Clinical Networks which led to a review of how these are managed in primary care.

All vanguards have been running for at least a year, so they are already quite advanced. Also, they are working to a plan which is very tightly monitored by NHS England: consequently, they aren’t interested in proposals that would require them to deviate from it. What they do want from pharma is something that could help them achieve their goals quicker.

Since technology, such as Skype and decision support software are key to transforming the NHS, this could involve the development of digital tools, phone apps and other IT services like remote diagnostic or review tools. It could also involve partnership working on relevant vanguard programmes. It is vital to keep abreast of what is happening in vanguards and attending key national conferences to listen, rather than to sell, is important.


Vanguards are leading the way in helping to develop new models of care that will become a blueprint for the NHS. The commercial benefits for pharma companies that get involved with vanguards at this early stage could be immense. But the onus is on pharma to decipher where it can plug gaps and to propose joint working initiatives that will help vanguards to achieve their goals.

Sue Thomas is CEO of the Commissioning Excellence Directorate and Paul Midgley is director of NHS insight, both at Wilmington Healthcare.

12th December 2016



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Wilmington Healthcare

01268 495600

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2-3 Commercial Way
Christy Close
SS15 6EF
United Kingdom

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