I’m always wary when I see the words “NHS” “drug companies” and “partnership” in the same sentence. Call me an old cynic, but conflict of interest springs to mind. We are purposeful beings and there is a purpose to everything we do no matter how remote or obscure it might seem to others. Just as there are always two sides to every argument, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, etc.…there are always two sides to the coin:
Safety education for medical staff v converting more sales;
Promoting correct drug usage v converting more sales;
Encouraging economic medicine management v converting more sales.
The recent article by Margaret McCartney in the BMJ makes reference to medicine management programmes paid for by the drug industry, and of course such a well-researched piece caught my imagination.
Apparently, a 1995 parliamentary enquiry called for “greater restraint in medicines promotion, particularly soon after launch.”…which I must admit I read as “soon after lunch”…but then as I said I’m just cynical.
So, how have we arrived at the current position? I think it has to be because NHS staff value the services they are receiving from Pharma and Pharma are prepared to provide the services for the return on investment they are making. The basic business of supply and demand, then.
And what are the services that NHS staff value? It seems to me that medical staff are being provided with information based on data, often gathered from their own patient cohorts, which happens to indicate the need for increased/changed drug usage. The key here is that the data evidences the need and it is difficult to disconnect the statistics from the clinical decision-making process which is more subjective based as it is on skill and experience. It is hard for anyone to ignore information about a possible risk without worrying that that risk might occur and they would be “to blame”.
NHS Informatics groups already know what is prescribed, why, when, how long for and to whom. What is missing is the bit before and the bit after…the inputs and the outcomes, such as what did the patient present as their symptoms and when the course of treatment was over did they recover or is it on-going? There is much talk of the “Patient Journey” but in terms of information in the NHS we are a long way off joining the dots.
So, if the NHS was able to provide end-to-end informatics on drug usage e-prescribing solution could be developed and medics wouldn’t need to accept the drugs companies conclusions. Bearing in mind the complexity of all the factors that need to be considered these days when prescribing, it’s only a matter of time before this type of system becomes essential to protect the prescribers.
Perhaps Big Pharma could make an altruistic move and use the existing funding that they have already set aside for the creation of an independent NHS “drug squad” to review prescribing and ultimately to implement an e-prescribing system that works.
Care.data could have been the NHS’s ultimate repository of patient data, making a useful contribution to the institution that provides care free at the point of use. Could we re-task them?