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Tapping into pharma company resources

Martin Anderson of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry explains the ongoing shift from sponsorship to joint working

For many years, UK-based pharmaceuticals companies have shown their commitment to improvements in the NHS in a variety of ways, for example, by providing medical and educational goods and services and educational grants. More recently, the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry have been seeking to extend these relationships to develop higher quality care and improve mutual understanding.

In February 2008, the Department of Health published its joint working guidance, confirming the Government's wish to see a closer and more mature relationship between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry. Joint working was further emphasised in the Darzi report.

Joint working is distinctly different from sponsorship, where funds are provided for a specific event or programme. Goals for a joint working project are agreed mutually by the NHS organisation and the company, in the interests of patients, and an agreement is drawn up.

The key to success is a complete separation between the activities that have been supported by the companies and the prescribing of products.

Sponsorship of projects will continue in the future, but over time, more pharmaceuticals companies are likely to be seeking to work with PBC organisations using the joint working principles.

Joint working is a new way of operating. It requires a different mindset from sponsorship – but many successful experiences have shown that it can be of major benefit to patients, the NHS and the pharmaceuticals companies involved.

We define it in our joint working toolkit (produced with the DH in 2008) as ‘situations where, for the benefit of patients, one or more pharmaceutical companies and the NHS pool skills, experience and/or resources for the joint development and implementation of patient-centred projects and share a commitment to successful delivery'.

The toolkit, titled Moving Beyond Sponsorship: joint working between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry, provides guidance to help NHS organisations and pharmaceuticals companies establish projects. It includes template agreements, other documents to ensure governance arrangements are robust and a number of examples of existing projects.

To provide further clarity, we produced Guidance Notes on Joint Working between Pharmaceutical Companies and the NHS and Others for the Benefit of Patients Taking into Consideration the 2008 ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry. This extends beyond the ABPI Code of Practice and can be viewed on

The underlying principle for joint working is that it must bring benefits for patients. Projects must be conducted in an open and transparent manner. Parties should establish steering groups and consult with relevant stakeholders.

All these measures should reassure NHS managers that joint working with the pharmaceutical industry is not only beneficial to themselves and patients but entirely ethical and appropriate.

Martin Anderson is director of NHS policy and partnerships, ABPI