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Education within the NHS

Industry-supported education is taking on new meaning. For the future, effective education resulting in improvements in patient care and return on investment for the industry will be achieved through integrated programmes for healthcare (clinical) professionals and the spectrum of NHS decision-makers.

Education on a disease state or a new treatment strategy will be redundant if the NHS decision-makers and managers approving the clinical use of the treatment are not effectively educated and informed. Equally, clinicians are increasingly motivated to learn about something new if they know it could be a realistic part of their management armamentarium. All too often the cart is preceding the horse, with clinician medical education being front of mind for the industry with education of NHS management and commissioning professionals often a less immediate priority.

Bridging a gap
There is a continuing energetic level of discussion from relevant stakeholders around the need for industry to partner more closely with NHS management. The intention is well established. It is now critical for the industry and the NHS to realise this intention into tangible programmes that will demonstrably improve healthcare delivery to the patient. Education and communication are key with some fundamental principles and values to be recognised.

Transparency from the start
The ABPI/Department of Health report Developing Partnership Between Industry and the NHS in the UK highlights the attitudes of industry and NHS personnel, both negative and positive. A significant degree of cynicism over industry-proposed projects still prevails in some areas of the NHS which can adversely influence the degree to which joint working can truly be implemented and result in successful outcomes.

Many Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have guidelines for working in partnership with industry. A policy around joint working is felt to be important in order to avoid conflicts of interest and hidden agendas. Other PCTs will not currently enter into such partnerships with industry – a challenge to be overcome.

In moving forward, industry and NHS parties need to be clear on each party’s objectives and expectations for any working partnership. The strategic NHS agenda and health priorities of a PCT need to be communicated effectively with the pharmaceutical industry so that the needs and objectives are understood, local agendas are targeted and local unmet needs are addressed within the context of industry support and education provision. The benefits, in short the ‘win-wins’, of involvement for both parties need to be mutually understood and respected from the outset.

Planning and finances
Whereas industry may be able to provide direct financial support to the NHS for specific education or service provision projects, it is increasingly likely that support will be offered in differing approaches according to locality needs. The arrangement should have clearly defined outcomes from both sides. The ability to demonstrate return on investment, on an ongoing basis or on completion of a project, of the allocated financial spend and acceptance of funding is fundamental.

The ABPI's framework for joint working
The ABPI's Framework for Joint Working between the pharma industry and the NHS includes a clear checklist that can be used to define the scope and purpose of specific projects – a proposal for approval by all parties. Project approval can often be a lengthy process. An approval body within a PCT for example may include: Medicines Management Directorate, the Pharmaceutical Team, Sponsorship or Partnership Group, Professional Executive Committee (PEC), PCT Prescribing Committee, Therapy/Clinical Area Group, Audit Committee, Clinical Governance (if affected).

Partnerships in practice
Undoubtedly, there remains a key role for traditional clinician medical education activities – national, regional and local: satellite symposia, modular learning programmes, scientific slide sets, web-casts, webinars, CME-accredited meetings and the list goes on, expanding as technology improves. Yet, in today’s environment, an integrated education programme should encompass the audience broader than the healthcare professional.

Disciplines need to become ‘joined-up’ throughout the education process. This can mean multi-disciplinary meetings or through the information audiences physically receive via the web, email or post. Clinical and non-clinical groups can learn from each other. This allows education to encompass disease and treatment information in the context of the anticipated or existing service delivery picture in a specific Local Health Economy (LHE).

Industry-led support for non-clinical professionals has over recent years trended towards the ‘template’ approach. Whereas this approach has a value to a point, it falls short of truly recognising the differing systems and priorities of LHEs across the UK.

Each LHE across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will benefit from truly bespoke support from industry and other stakeholders. An optimum and increasing solution is for the industry to provide well-trained and empowered field-based personnel with resources that can be adapted to benefit the LHE following a frank discussion around needs and solutions. The activities that follow from that relationship can emerge in the form of a meetings series, patient pathway development, general sponsorship programme, nurse secondments through to IT support. Whereas this approach is much talked about, it still needs to be implemented effectively as an industry standard.

An effective education programme needs to be truly multi-faceted, recognising national, local, clinical and non-clinical priorities needs within the given disease area. The NHS and the DoH recognise the benefits of industry support in improving healthcare delivery – working to achieve benefits for all stakeholders through the education process is an ongoing priority.

The Author
Janis Troup is managing director at Right Angle Communications
She can be contacted at

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