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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the government’s agenda?
From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

Archive for the ‘WA Health’ Category

Stamping out “waste and wokery” – the task at hand for the new NHS Chair

Stamping out “waste and wokery” – the task at hand for the new NHS Chair.

Richard Meddings, a former banker with over 40 years of experience in the financial sector in both public and private sector roles has recently taken over as the new Chair of NHS England. Meddings has been brought in to be watchful over “any waste and wokery” of NHS resources and help deliver the Government’s ambitious agenda of reform for NHS England. The ongoing pressures on the NHS were well documented prior to the pandemic, and concerns over the sustainability of its funding are seldom absent from political discourse. So, is Meddings’ appointment in keeping with Sajid Javid’s ambitions for the NHS in the coming years, who is he, and what can we expect from him?

Who is Richard Meddings?

Those who have worked with him report that he is forensic, exceptionally detailed and pragmatic in his approach to his work. Whilst serving as a Chair at TSB, Meddings was known for navigating them through a turbulent year of crises and restoring public confidence in the bank significantly. It is no surprise these qualities endeared him to Sajid Javid, who sought a skilled operator with experience of reforming and influencing change at the highest levels of business as his ministers have taken a harder stance on holding managers to account for improving services within the NHS.

Others have expressed concern over his lack of experience in the health sector, and the Health and Social Care Select Committee were not unanimous in their decision to appoint him. Meddings countered critics by stating that there was ample sectoral experience in the board already, and his merits would be to bring “to bring fresh insights, strong experience of board governance, digital and financial skills, and courage in adversity and strategic leadership”.

What can we expect from him?

Meddings enters his role with a challenging brief already in front of him. He will quickly have to showcase his understanding of NHS England’s DNA to win over any sceptics in the organisation. Whilst his appointment was unashamedly based on his experience in finance, he will among other things, have to adequately manage the redirection of an expanded workforce back to the day-to-day delivery of services, as well as ensuring NHS boards align with the Government’s wider integrated care ambition.

Overseeing the change from CCGs to ICSs in July will be a significant stress test of his Chairmanship. Across the country several clinicians will end their roles as CCG Chairs, thus creating a large exodus of clinical experience. Without his own established network throughout NHS England, Meddings will have to quickly understand what life is like at the coal face to get an acute sense of the pressures at a local leadership level. Clinicians are typically not engaged in managing systems and overseeing budgets, so in order for Meddings to achieve his ambitions of better managing NHS finances and reducing waiting lists he must ensure that under the new ICS structure they are engaged at all levels of decision-making.

The Government has stated £800m needs to be made in savings across its health departments this calendar year and as such funding for several programmes has been pulled back already. Whilst it seems unlikely that this ambitious target will be met, a more accurate metric of Meddings’ success will be whether he can balance cost savings whilst also producing tangible results for patients.

What does his appointment tell us?

The Government is eager to demonstrate how the NHS can be run cost-effectively, and how it can be reformed to improve the way it works in addressing the significant backlog it continues to face. It is no coincidence that Meddings’ appointment is one of three recent major Government appointments of officials with backgrounds in finance, with Samantha Roberts (formerly at Legal and General) appointed as the Chief Executive of NICE, and Ian Dilks (formerly at PwC) as Chair of the Care Quality Commission. Given the Secretary of State’s previous experience both in finance and in his previous role as Chancellor, it is unsurprising he is looking to those with a history in the financial sector to support the delivery of his ambitious reforms.

His appointment also reminds us that Javid will need to demonstrate to the Chancellor that Meddings is the man who will deliver tangible improvements to NHS England’s efficiency and value for money to substantiate the controversial health and social care levy introduced in April this year.

Measuring success

Meddings’ first year will be critical in defining whether Javid’s gamble to appoint a rank outsider has paid off. Javid’s optimism in the new Chair’s previous experience to address any “waste and wokery” and see through his reforms may be well placed, but Meddings must be careful to ensure that ruthless focus on finances does not come at the expense of patient outcomes and quality of care.

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Are women finally being heard?

Women in the UK are becoming increasingly vocal about the challenges they face in their healthcare and the unjust variation in access to services. When the Government opened their consultation to inform a Women’s Health Strategy in Spring 2021, over 110,000 respondents took the opportunity to make it known that the system does not work for them. Following years of campaigning, it comes as no surprise to women and those in the women’s health community that an overwhelming 84% of people felt their voices are simply not being heard when they seek health care.

By demonstrating an interest in women’s voices and their experiences, recognising failures in the system, and committing to developing a Women’s Health strategy, the Government has taken a positive initial step, albeit an ambitious one. There is no disease-specific focus and no target patient population, unlike other policy areas. This challenge affects 51% of our population and includes natural, life course events that women have, for many years, been told to just live with. With publication of the strategy imminent, the Government now need to demonstrate that they are willing to not only listen to women’s voices but to implement action based on what they are saying.

Women continue to face challenges when it comes to choices about their own bodies. Ongoing variation in access to abortion care, a full range of contraceptive choice, and a holistic range of menopause treatment options, all impact on women’s freedom to choose the treatments that work best for them. The Government’s commitment to prioritising the menopause in the upcoming strategy and cutting prescription costs for Hormone Replacement Therapies (HRT) in response to the Menopause Revolution campaign is hopeful. However, the Government’s initial attempt to reverse progress made in at-home abortion during the pandemic despite women citing a clear preference for this to continue, suggests more need to be done to prioritise women’s voices, choices and rights in practice.

In addition to not being heard, a fragmented system and the pandemic backlog have resulted in services that are increasingly difficult to navigate, leading to the most vulnerable falling through the cracks. Upcoming system reforms focusing on the integration of care offer opportunities to take a patient centered approach and reduce inequalities in outcomes. The Government is also expected to advocate for the establishment of ‘women’s health hubs’, which aim to enable access to all required care in a one-stop shop, in line with calls from advocates including the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Despite the promise of better integration locally, fragmentation is continuing at a national level. Abortion has been removed from the Women’s Health Strategy and is expected to feature in the upcoming Sexual Health Strategy. With a wider interest in health inequalities, the Government must recognise the connection between these elements of healthcare and align planning nationally to support local areas to integrate care.

Committing to a women’s health strategy is a promising step in the right direction for this Government and has offered women long overdue hope. Action in response to prominent campaigns, such as the Menopause Revolution, to change the way women can interact with the system allow us to believe that the challenges women have faced for far too long could be overcome within their lifetime.

The Government have a real opportunity to ensure women have their voices heard. To do this, they must recognise the challenges they face, capitalise on system reforms to integrate care, collaborate with the women’s health community, and most importantly, commit to funding appropriate and immediate action. In a health system and economy designed by and for men, the time for meaningful, impactful change, is now.

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Battle stations: reflections on the Government’s War on Cancer announcement

When the Conservatives were re-elected in 2019, it was on a manifesto that mentioned cancer in only two specific commitments: the expansion of the Cancer Drugs Fund and the rollout of cancer diagnostic machines across 78 hospital trusts. And yet, at the beginning of February, the Government used World Cancer Day to declare war on cancer, announcing a sweeping consultation for a new 10 Year Cancer Plan for England, designed to “radically improve” outcomes for cancer patients.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on cancer diagnosis and care, so, despite the surprise nature of the announcement, it’s hard to oppose the Government’s decision to intervene. What isn’t clear yet is the extent to which this will be a wholesale reform backed by serious funding commitments, or a rehash of existing policies in the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan and the 2015 Cancer Strategy for England.

The announcement shows the Government’s intention of taking the reins on cancer policy, and making it political. Following months of political unrest and serious concerns about the elective care backlog, this allows the Government to set its long-term intentions. By making cancer a political priority, the Government and NHS can be held to account on the impact of reform, ensuring delivery against commitments. This is likely to be central to the purpose of the Cancer Plan and will help to give momentum to a programme of change.

It is essential that funding is adequate to achieve targets at an extremely challenging time. Patient groups, who have witnessed years of rhetoric yet insufficient progress, are cautiously optimistic, rightly concerned that years of underinvestment and understaffing will mean that however great the commitments are, the resource to achieve them will not match.

We have also witnessed this week The Treasury being more muscular on making stipulations attached to funding commitments. The tense stand-off with Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over the Elective Recovery Plan may indicate what’s to come with the Cancer Plan, with the Treasury not keen to loosen the purse strings for wooly ambitions.

Whether the Plan, when published, is a total reset or momentum for existing policy in a new format, the potential for real change in the diagnosis, management and treatment of cancers is certainly closer.

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Time for a NICE change

Insights from the conclusions of the NICE methods review.

The conclusions of the NICE methods review, approved by its board last week, mark the end of an extended process looking at overhauling the methods and processes by which the organisation evaluates new health technologies. The review, which spanned a period of two years, is likely going to be the last one of its magnitude for some time. It was positioned as an important step towards achieving the UK’s ambitions to cement itself as a world leader in the faster access and uptake of innovative medicines; a vision it has been pushing since the UK detached itself from the European Union’s regulatory orbit.

Industry’s initial response has been largely welcoming to the changes, although it has also been quickly acknowledged that some of the review’s original ambitions have been diluted or, as the BioIndustry Association recently wrote, ‘failed to match the ambitions set out at the start of the review’.

The changes present a shift in approach to NICE’s reviews as processes, to one that is more focused on ‘living’ guidelines. However, despite NICE positioning itself as helping to support the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem through flexible, agile, robust, future proof and rapid access intentions, there are several areas that still lack detail, or fail to provide the clarity many had hoped for.

Highly specialised technology criteria

The first is that the gap between single technology appraisals (STAs) and highly specialised technology appraisals (HST) has likely increased. Much of the criticism of the old HST methods was centered around the restrictive criteria for which a technology was considered highly specialised. The inconsistency in how these criteria were applied also meant only a smaller number of orphan products were ever considered as suitable for very rare diseases.

The new criteria has sought to provide clarity to this definition. However, in doing so, they may have further restricted the application of the programme. Those medicines falling between the very rare and common therapy areas spectrum still have no clear pathway. NICE has sought to rectify this with the introduction of a ‘severity modifier.’ The severity modifier will be used to decide whether to recommend a technology with an incremental cost effectiveness ratio above the normal QALY threshold depending on the severity of the disease. But it is likely that those medicines that are for rare diseases, but not ultra-rare diseases, remain at a disadvantage; and subsequently, those patients that they cater to.

Evolving complex healthcare needs

The second is around how health technology appraisals overlap with wider social policies, such as health inequalities, comorbidities and the impact of the life sciences sector on the environment. There had been hopes that NICE would provide a steer on how, like the severity modifier, these factors could be considered when evaluating technology.

Although it is arguably not in the remit of NICE to spearhead the sustainability agenda, these other broad stroke areas are increasingly topical challenges for the future of health policy and will need to be taken into account going forward if the organisation strives to remain forward looking and flexible to real world realities.

NICE has now committed to review the way in which these areas can be accounted for within appraisals to better reflect the real value of medicines. The conclusions of the review make no provisions for these areas yet. However, they do make the commitment to review this in the future, although the process and timeline beyond public consultations, remains unknown.

We can therefore expect significant focus over the course of the next few years on assessing what modifying for these considerations might mean. Views from industry are likely to be wide ranging and the onus will be on NICE to understand society’s willingness to make tradeoffs in recommendations and pricing based on these factors.

NICE has clearly recognised that this review is a chance to remove anomalies and bring in some consistent processes across the programmes. The message to industry also remains clear – the organisation remains the authority for driving the appraisals process and they will ultimately still have full control over determining whether an evaluation is progressed or not.

Despite the strive to consider the full spectrum of uncertainty that comes with the evaluation of new health technologies, implementation of modifiers, or future commitments to review more advantageous discount rates, the organisation’s ultimate objective to drive better value for money remains unchanged.

 

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Sajid Javid: the start of a new era

It is an understatement to say that there are many challenging and competing interests at the top of new Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s in tray. To paraphrase the Queen of Hearts’ advice to Alice in Wonderland, Javid may quickly come to feel that he must get used to making six impossible decisions before breakfast.

Early decisions

Immediate pressure points include the lifting of COVID restrictions; the long-term conundrum of social care; bolstering the shellshocked NHS workforce; and stewarding the increasingly politically contentious health legislation through Parliament. Some he will choose to embrace. Some he will try to ignore; to greater or lesser degrees of success.

As an additional challenge, he will only briefly have the support of longstanding NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens, who is leaving his post in July. Playing a leading role in choosing Stevens’ replacement will be among the most critical decisions the new Health Secretary will have to work on. But coming in so late to the recruitment process gives more established figures, like Lord Prior, a stronger hand.

While Javid has wide ranging experience across Government – albeit with a brief tenure in each role – he has had little opportunity to make his mark in a high spending, high-profile, and heavily scrutinised department.

Chief communicator

It is the tight scrutiny from all sides that may be the hardest to manage. During COVID, the model for the Health Secretary’s role has so far been to be communicator-in-chief as well as a leading driver of policy.

Matt Hancock was frequently mocked for his ‘tiggerish’ approach to his role. He was always up for the morning briefing round or the evening podium performance, telling the public over and over the latest rules to follow (although of course it is now clear he was not always following them himself).

Since the pandemic started, Hancock has been a stalwart in the small roster of spokespeople trusted to communicate core public health messages. Now he has gone, Javid will need to step up. How he chooses to do so could shape our perception of the next phase of the pandemic as much as the policies he advocates behind the scenes.

A new COVID story?

Javid’s initial comments as Health Secretary show he has different instincts to his predecessor. While he spent his first morning doing a hospital visit, enabling the press to capture him deep in conversation with frontline NHS staff, Javid’s first session at the Dispatch Box focused heavily on his desire to drive us towards ‘freedom’ from lockdown rather than messages around safety or caution.

He chose to stress that we cannot eliminate the risk from COVID and need ‘to learn to live with it’. Claiming that his role is about returning the ‘economic and cultural life’ of the country alongside protecting life and the NHS is a clear shift in emphasis.

For some, this new tone will be hugely welcome. Others questioned the logic in claiming that there is no reason not to expect a full and irreversible end of lockdown by mid-July on the day that the UK saw the highest case rate since January.

After years of relative stability in health policy leadership, we are clearly now entering a new era.

 

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What can we learn from the proposed NHS Standard Contract for 2021/22?

What can we learn from the proposed NHS Standard Contract for 2021/22?

NHS England has published a consultation on its proposed changes to the NHS Standard Contract for the financial year ahead. The final document will be used by Clinical Commissioning Groups and NHS England to contract for all healthcare services bar primary care. The focus of any changes often provides important insight into system priorities for the coming year and the strength of conviction behind them.

With 2021/22 set to be another uniquely testing year for the NHS, one might expect measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 to dominate the contract. Instead, there is a sense of defiant ambition, with clear signals for providers to push on with other key NHS and government priorities.

With this year’s consultation now live, here are four key takeaways for the year ahead:

 

1. Don’t get left behind as the NHS pushes on with system transformation

The Contract for 2021/22 shows that NHS England is not letting up in its push for system transformation. It includes several steps to establish more collaborative relationships between commissioners and providers, the most symbolic of which is the removal of financial sanctions for providers that fail to achieve national standards.

This is a significant step towards reversing the transactional, almost adversarial relationship that has proliferated between commissioners and providers over recent years, instead encouraging more collaborative system-level action to identify and address the causes of poor provider performance.

The cogs of system transformation are well and truly turning again so engagement with NHS leaders will need to focus on how to support the achievement of their newly framed outcomes in the most direct way. Additionally, the prospect of major health legislation is looming large for the first time in almost a decade, providing an important opportunity to think bigger picture.

 

2. Get serious about delivering ‘Net Zero’

In October, NHS England published its report on Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service, which set out the interventions required to achieve just that, ‘Net Zero’. Yet, the report itself had no legal standing on which to enforce its recommendations or incentivise action.

The inclusion of stronger targets on the reduction of harmful greenhouses gases and air pollution in the proposed Standard Contract for 2021/22, and a requirement for providers to identify board-level officers accountable for delivering ‘Net Zero’ commitments, is a clear indication that NHS England is serious about driving this agenda forwards.

The NHS will increasingly expect everyone who works alongside it to demonstrate that they are also serious about reducing their environmental impact. Medicines, medical devices, services and care pathways can all be made more sustainable. Clearly communicating what you are doing in this space could start to deliver a commercial advantage as pressure builds on providers and health systems to make rapid progress.

 

3. Offer a helping hand on health inequalities

Commitments to reducing health inequalities have been somewhat of a stalwart in NHS policy over recent years. The delivery of coordinated programmes at a local level that actually move the needle have not been so common. This was brought into stark relief by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

To create greater accountability at a local level, it is proposed that the Contract include a requirement for each provider to identify a board-level executive responsible for overseeing their actions to address and reduce health inequalities. With broader government and public focus on health inequalities brought on by COVID-19, the pressure on these individuals to demonstrate progress will be palpable.

Those working alongside the NHS should place increasing focus on how they support providers and health systems to address health inequalities. At a time when resources are stretched, we may find that some are actually more open to industry support in delivering staff training programmes, new capacity or improvements to patient pathways, but they’ll have to be able to justify the time investment. Demonstrating how you can contribute to reducing health inequalities could help to secure support for your joint working projects.

 

4. Communicate the benefits of remote consultations and management

Following the rapid up take of video and telephone outpatient appointments during COVID-19, the NHS is now trying to cement their use into everyday clinical practice by requiring all providers to offer patients (where appropriate) a choice between remote and face-to-face consultations. The hope is that this choice will be maintained in primary care too, where uptake of remote consultations has also rocketed.

However, to truly support clinicians and patients to select remote consultations in the long-term, the NHS will need to place additional value on health technologies that support effective remote monitoring and management.

Before some slip back into old habits, the wider health sector can play a role in crystallising broad clinical support for this new way of working. Arming your field force and spokespeople with clear, real-world evidence of how your technology is reducing the need for labour intensive, face-to-face clinical interventions could provide clinicians with the confidence to continue their transformation.

 

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Balancing the health of the nation with the health of the economy – 10 key takeaways

On 15th October WA hosted an event exploring the difficult decisions facing government in balancing the health of the nation with the health of the economy.

With a second wave of Covid-19 upon the UK and much of Europe, political, media and public pressure is building, and a difficult winter is approaching.

We brought together an expert panel to consider the issues, hosted by WA Director Caroline Gordon. The speakers included Tom Newton Dunn (Chief Political Commentator and Presenter at Times Radio), Poppy Trowbridge (former Special Adviser to the Chancellor and WA Advisory Board Member) and Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard (Epidemiologist at Imperial College London).

It was a wide-ranging debate (watch here if you missed it), but what were the key takeaways?

Here are our top 10 points made during the discussion:

 

1) The prosperity of a nation is inextricably linked to the health of a nation:

The pandemic has taught us the value of public health cannot be underestimated. A legacy of Covid-19 must be a proper review of how we approach public health and what we ask of the NHS.

 

2) Devolved and regional politics has grown in power:

With healthcare devolved to national governments and Metro Mayors exercising influence over local lockdowns, leadership over the pandemic has often come from politicians not based in Westminster. What will this mean for the Government’s agenda beyond Covid-19?

 

3) Government is still stuck in campaign mode and not thinking long term

It’s no great surprise that a government of campaigners would think in campaign terms, but their focus has been too short term and the messaging too ambitious. With the pandemic creating complicated and long-term challenges they need to find a more nuanced way of communicating.

 

4) The libertarian principles of the Government are holding it back from decisive action

The restrictions being introduced to manage the spread of the virus are unprecedented for any democratic government, but they particularly jar with the PM’s brand of libertarianism. That conflict, manifested in hesitation and delays about enacting measures, has surfaced repeatedly through the crisis.

 

5) No 10 and No 11 have been closely aligned, but that could be fraying

There has often been tensions between the inhabitants of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street, but in Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak there has been unusual harmony up to now. That consensus, however, is coming under strain with the Treasury keen to focus on keeping the economy moving and resistant to overly restrictive measures. How this relationship plays out could come to define the rest of this government’s term, particularly with the Chancellor being tipped as the most likely successor to the PM.

 

6) Internally government realise ‘Test & Trace’ is not working

With no clear vaccine timetable or even the promise that one will work, NHS Test and Trace is the only route back to a degree of normality. A fully functional test and trace system was the only reason SAGE agreed to the unlock over the Summer, but the Government’s centralised approach has been beset by problems. Whilst they have not publicly admitted it, quietly they are beginning to shift people and resources towards local test and trace approach which has been much more effective.

 

7) The government could do a lot more to help businesses navigate the crisis

Government offloaded too much responsibility onto businesses and were not clear about how long restrictions were likely to be in place. This uncertainty has meant businesses can’t plan effectively and many have taken an understandably cautious approach because of this. With unemployment rising, the Government needs to find a way to give business the confidence to invest and create jobs.

 

8) The public consensus is fragile compared to the first wave

People feel ‘cheated’ by being ask to lockdown again – they were willing to trust the process first time around, but a lack of faith in the government a second time around (not helped by the Dominic Cummings affair) could undermine the effectiveness of measures for the second wave.

 

9) England and Wales has one of the worst excess death tolls in Europe

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard’s research has shown that excess deaths in England and Wales were 37% above normal, second only to Spain’s 38% as the worst performance in Europe. When the public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 finally comes, there will surely be questions to answer.

 

10) The Government’s long-term ambitions are on hold

It may not feel like it, but we are still in the early days of this Government. Elected back in December 2019 with a strong majority, the crisis has put the brakes on the broader policy agenda as they battle to tackle the virus and shore up an unstable party. The Government is a long way from making strides on its domestic agenda, businesses need to try to understand what each Department is trying to achieve despite the virus and bring solutions and opportunities for good news.

 

These are just a handful of takeaways from a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion, you call watch the full video exploring how to balance the health of the nation with the health of the economy here.

 

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Webinar – Balancing the health of the nation with the health of the economy

On Thursday 15th October 2020, WA Communications Director, Caroline Gordon, hosted a webinar exploring how the Government can balance the health of the nation with the health of the economy.

We are living through unprecedented times in which a devastating public health crisis is creating a global economic slowdown.

The Government has to make daily decisions that balance the health of the nation against the health of our economy. Political, media and public pressure is building and a difficult winter is approaching. There are no easy answers – just more questions facing every business and organisation in the UK as to how to respond, plan and communicate.

Panellists included:

 

Watch a recording of the webinar:

 

 

 

 

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Webinar – In conversation with the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

On Tuesday 18h November 2020, WA Communications Director, Lisa Townsend, sat down with the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP to discuss her Early Years Healthy Development Review, the first phase of which will report to the government in January.

The first 1,000 days of children’s lives are critical for their development, and hugely impact their physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout their lives. The potential for the ‘levelling up’ agenda to support the early years is vast, and something we know is on the government’s agenda.

 

The webinar covered a huge range of issues, providing insight on subjects such as:

 

Watch a recording of the webinar:

 

 

 

 

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Novo Nordisk chooses WA Communications for diabetes brief

WA Communications’ growing health team has been chosen by leading diabetes company Novo Nordisk to drive government affairs in their diabetes business, making the first half of 2020 WA Health’s most successful period to date.

WA Health won a competitive pitch to secure the retained account with Novo Nordisk, supporting the company with their innovative type 2 diabetes portfolio. Head of Health Caroline Gordon will lead the account alongside Associate Director Dean Sowman, working to Dan Beety, Director of Corporate Affairs at Novo Nordisk.

Dan Beety of Novo Nordisk said:

‘‘We put in place a rigorous selection process and were impressed by Caroline and her team. WA’s insight, commitment and enthusiasm shone through. Their approach brought creative ideas that showed a deep understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”

The wins cap off a strong first half of 2020 for WA’s health team, who also recently won a five way competitive pitch to work with Sanofi’s rare disease franchise.

Earlier this month, WA Communications also won the coveted CIPR Consultancy of the Year award.

To talk to Caroline about your business needs, please get in touch via carolinegordon@wacomms.co.uk.

 

 

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After COVID-19, what next for cancer services?

Thousands of cancer patients are missing. Many patients are having appointments delayed or cancelled, others simply aren’t seeking help. There is growing unease over the implications.

And so the direction from the centre is clear – getting cancer services back up to pre-pandemic levels is a top priority for the health service.

How this will be achieved remains to be seen, with many remaining unknowns around how, when and which services and standards will be brought back.

As the health system starts to piece together a path towards the new normal, we provide a recap of the key decisions made during the pandemic and some of the remaining questions that will be playing on the minds of those tasked with delivering the cancer recovery.

A pause on the 28-day faster diagnosis standard (FDS)

Due to be rolled out fully from April 1st, NHS England and Improvement cancer leads confirmed that implementation of the FDS would be put on hold indefinitely. While providers have been asked to continue sending data, they will not be expected to meet the 75% threshold and no data will be published until at least July.

Cancer providers will be anxious for further guidance over expectations when the NHS formally enters the “recovery” phase. With the need to maintain surge capacity alongside an anticipated backlog of pent-up demand for cancer services, there will be tough decisions to be made over how much leeway can be allowed for services that will undoubtedly continue to be stretched thin over the foreseeable future.

Maintaining impetus on early cancer diagnosis in primary care

The re-worked primary care network (PCN) contract for 2020/21 pushed back the start date for the Early Cancer Diagnosis service specification from 1 April to 1 October, while urging PCNs to “make every possible effort” to begin work earlier if possible.

This plaintive request from the centre was no doubt made against concern over the impact of the suspension of all cancer screening programmes. Together with screening, the service specification is integral for achieving the Long-Term Plan ambition to diagnose most cancers at an early stage.

It includes considerable administrative asks of PCNs, including a rigorous review of their referral practice and targeted action to improve the uptake of cancer screening services. Whether this can feasibly be done amidst the current situation remains to be seen. With no further signals on the resumption of the cancer screening programmes, much depends on PCNs’ ability to drive progress on this front.

Accelerating the roll-out of Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs)

Many RDCs across the country have continued to operate during the pandemic, and NHS England has recognised their potential to support the COVID-19 response with guaranteed funding flows as required. The pandemic has accelerated the introductions of innovative approaches to manage referrals to RDCs and avoid hospital attendances, which may well continue well beyond the current crisis. At the same time however the submission of RDC management information has been paused, as has the planned national RDC evaluation exercise.

As services begin the task of bringing referral and diagnostic activity back to pre-pandemic levels, the expectations of RDCs will be high – the challenge will be to ensure that their learnings and good practice can be shared effectively across the system.

Continuing uncertainty over shielding

Little has been said officially over whether individuals who have been advised to shield during the pandemic, many of whom are cancer patients, will be asked to continue isolating in the coming weeks and months. Reports of recent communication by text message with those on the shielding list has indicated that some individuals are being removed from the list, although nothing has been announced on the rationale behind this decision or which groups will be affected.

Cancer Alliances have reported significant falls in 2WW referrals for suspected cancer, with anecdotal reports of some patients refusing to attend for fear of infection. Any continued ambiguity in the official advice will only exacerbate the concerns of vulnerable patients and will need careful management in order to ensure that cancer patients are receiving appropriate treatment and support.

Responding to the pandemic required rapid changes to cancer services and the necessary suspension of initiatives that were just gathering momentum before the crisis hit. What’s clear is that the task of piecing cancer services back up to pre-pandemic levels is just as complex, and there is a lot of remaining uncertainty as to where and how priorities should lie.

 

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WA promotions as WA Health expands the team

WA Health continues to grow as it welcomes Account Manager Ben Latimer to the team.

His hire comes off the back of several recent high-profile health client wins for WA Health, including the Sanofi Genzyme’s UK rare diseases brief and work with Senzer, an innovative UK-based pharmaceutical company manufacturing respiratory devices.

Ben joins WA from another consultancy where he worked with leading global pharmaceutical brands on high level market access issues and across several portfolios including immuno-oncology, cardiovascular disease and osteoperosis. He also specialised in joint working groups between industry and patient groups, and worked with independent healthcare providers to develop best practise in patient-centred care for NHS services.

Caroline Gordon, Director of WA Health said: “It’s an absolute pleasure to have Ben join our growing team. He will be a great addition across a number of our health accounts, bringing his strong and diverse healthcare experience to the table.”

Ben Latimer added: “WA’s reputation has grown in the sector as they’ve delivered outstanding work for clients and continued to win interesting and large briefs. I’m excited to work with Caroline and be part of this this independent agency which clearly takes great pride in the work they do.”

WA has also promoted three of its Senior Account Executives to Account Managers this month across its Public Affairs and Investor Services teams.

Caitlin Fordham, Cameron Wall and Lizzy Cryar have all been promoted in recognition of the effective work and timely advice they consistently deliver for their clients.

Dominic Church, WA’s Managing Director congratulated all three on their promotions: “Despite the extraordinary circumstances we currently find ourselves in, we still believe it is essential to recognise and thank staff for outstanding performance. Lizzy, Caitlin and Cameron are all integral parts of their client teams and I am really delighted to announce their well-deserved promotions”.

 

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Mental Health MPs’ top priority according to new poll for WA

Research from WA Communications on the health priorities of the new parliament has found that 62 per cent of MPs see mental health as the top priority for health spending over the next five years.

The research, informed by a cross-party YouGov poll of 100 parliamentarians, finds that more MPs selected mental health spending as a top three priority than any other condition, coming ahead of cancer care (selected by 35 per cent), cardiovascular (14 per cent) and diabetes (8 per cent).

The findings reflect the political prominence of mental health over the past few years with all major parties placing it core to their health plans. Yet a significant gap between the parties exists, with 80% of Labour MPs placing it as their top priority, in contrast to 47% of Conservative MPs.

Cancer care, traditionally a key political health issue, falls behind mental health overall, but is still viewed by more than a third of MPs as one of the top three priority areas for NHS funding. Conservative MPs identified cancer care as the area they would most like to see money spent on, with almost half (46%) selecting this.

This is despite Conservative Party plans to broaden the scope of the Cancer Drugs Fund into an Innovative Medicines Fund to support other areas such as autoimmune and rare diseases.

Prevention agenda

Matt Hancock’s ambition of an NHS shifting the NHS’s resources from treatment to prevention also appears to be backed by parliamentarians. 69 per cent of MPs believe the NHS should “direct more resources towards prevention, rather than increasing funding for new treatments.” This is 5% higher than when this question was asked a year previously, suggesting growing support for the prevention agenda.

Medicines access

MPs also believe that patients in the UK get good access to the medicines that can treat them best.

More than two thirds (67%) of MPs agreed with this statement, particularly Conservative MPs, with 79% stating this is the case. And just 25% of MPs believe improving the availability of new medicines on the NHS is a top funding priority.

This is despite a steady drumbeat of medicines access issues being raised throughout the last parliament, such as that of Orkambi.

Labour’s high-profile General Election focus on medicines pricing and life sciences companies being part of Brexit trade talks isn’t reflected by the Parliamentary Labour Party, with more than half (52%) of Labour MPs stating that patients get good access to medicines.

 

To discuss the wider findings and what they mean for your business in more detail, please contact Caroline Gordon, WA’s Director and Head of Health, at carolinegordon@wacomms.co.uk.

 

The polling was conducted by YouGov between 8th and 23rd January 2020. 101 MPs were polled, including 40 from the Conservative Party and 40 from the Labour Party.

 

 

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Bayer appoints WA Health to lead government affairs for cardiovascular disease

WA Health, the specialist health practice of WA Communications, has been appointed by Bayer to lead the government affairs brief for their blockbuster cardiovascular brand.

WA was brought in following a competitive pitch and will focus on supporting market access preparations for their expansion into coronary or peripheral arterial disease (CAD / PAD) as well as Bayer’s traditional stronghold in anticoagulation for stroke prevention.

The account is being led by WA Health’s director Caroline Gordon, who joined the company last summer from Incisive Health, reporting to Bayer’s Government and Industry Affairs Manager, Andrew Brown.

Andrew Brown, Bayer’s Government and Industry Affairs Manager said:‘We’re very happy to be working with the team at WA on our cardiovascular disease government affairs brief. WA’s ideas really stood out to us during the pitch process and we’re excited to be working with them during this critical phase. We’re confident it’s going to be a strong partnership.’

Caroline Gordon, Director at WA said: ‘This is a flagship win for WA Health and exactly the kind of work we thrive on. We’re delighted to add Bayer to our growing client list. It’s been a really strong few months for the WA team across our specialisms in health and wellbeing and we’re all hugely looking forward to building on this success in 2019.’

This win comes off the back of a successful period for WA Health, having recently secured projects across Sanofi’s oncology portfolio, corporate communications for Takeda and retained work supporting the UK launch of Camurus’ opioid replacement therapy treatment.

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A year in WA Health

It’s a year since I joined WA’s Health Team – and I’m a firm believer of using anniversaries to look back and take stock. I joined as an account executive into what was a fairly new, but clearly ambitious health team. It was a daunting but exciting move.

Every company sells itself as a great company to work at. ‘Growing’. ‘Ambitious’. ‘Fun’. The usual selling points. For some companies, this is either wishful thinking or shrewd marketing.

It can be difficult in interviews to get the true sense of a workplace. All the same, I felt confident when I started working at WA that I had made the right choice and found a workplace where I could not only develop professionally – but also enjoy doing so.

And so, a year in, I can comfortably and confidently say that the gut instinct was right.

WA has a knack for attracting talented people who get along well and can work hard together but also genuinely enjoy going for drinks at the end of the week.

My background isn’t in healthcare. I’m a politics geek at heart. And the last year has pushed me to learn a huge amount. But working in this fast-paced environment has fast-tracked my learning and experiences.

I look back and can tick off my key ask of this job, which was to work on genuinely interesting and intellectually stimulating work every day; writing insightful reports and patient booklets, holding exacting but ultimately rewarding roundtables and events both in our office and in parliament, and advising them on strategic challenges. Just this week we supported a parliamentary event where Parliamentarians had their faces scanned to see skin damage.

Winning pitches and being nominated for awards have been particular highlights for me as well – and are the start of a trend I think we’re definitely going to continue.

Its genuinely impressive to watch how quickly my colleagues can get up to speed – and help me to as well – with the terminology and details of incredibly complex challenges. It’s always been important for me to be in a job where I can develop my knowledge and expertise – and though it sounds cliché I really do feel lucky to be in a position to learn so much from my colleagues every day.

I’m looking forward to the start of my second year at WA, and taking into consideration how the team has developed since I joined –  I’m confident that it’ll be even better than the first.

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