When any industry, organisation or brand holds a mirror up to itself and finds the image it sees is troublesome, it’s time to take a step back and ask the uncomfortable question why?
We took this tough first step at our Annual Conference last Thursday when, for the first time in a public domain, we debated our reputation, how others see us and where we need to focus our efforts to close the gap between their perception and our reality in order to bring to life the ambitions we have for the life sciences industry in the UK.
Pricing, value and affordability increasingly dominate the headlines as well as the current pre and soon to be post-election environment. We face an ‘affordability conundrum’ as new, innovative medicines offering life-enhancing and life-saving benefits become available, but the NHS can’t afford to pay for them. How does society pay for progress? And how does the industry move from being seen as a purveyor of pills to a provider of solutions?
It’s vital to understand the prevailing context and specifically what drives the perceptions of those with whom we work and engage. Sharing the insights from the views of the public, health professionals and medical students helped set the scene. From a ComRes study we commissioned in September last year amongst 2,010 members of the general public, 100 medical students and 250 healthcare professionals with a responsibility for prescribing, we can see our reputation is largely positive across these groups – better than perhaps many of us feared. Fair enough - one survey only captures a moment in time. But the results matched the other insights we have been gathering and chime with what others have published. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 for example. Healthcare professionals view us more favourably and have more trust in our industry than others. It’s a less positive picture for medical students and the public. The drivers of positive industry reputation lie in our ability to produce and develop new medicines that help people live longer; our strength in enhancing the UK’s scientific reputation internationally and the contribution we make to the national economy.
A key area that harms our reputation today is a focus on cost – healthcare professionals and medical student rate us poorly for providing medicines that deliver value for money and for providing medicines that the NHS can afford.
So how can we address this?
What’s clear is that the simplest way to build trust is to firstly to increase our engagement – frequently and consistently, sharing the value we bring to patients, to the NHS, to the public, to society whilst at the same time, keeping things simple and focused on people. We need to play a key role in solving affordability, examining our business model, within a wider holistic review of the healthcare system. Behaviours have to stand up to scrutiny.
Whilst it all seems obvious, it’s clear we are not currently doing a good enough job on engagement with everyone. Understanding how other industries tackle reputation challenges provides inspiration and ideas. It’s going to be a long, long haul - opportunities abound, challenges are clear. The vision is achievable: industry perceived as valued partner by all; trusted as part of the solution to the affordability conundrum; recognised for its economic contribution and role in delivering a NHS envied around the world and central to the progress in making the UK a healthier and wealthier nation.
Executive Director – Communications
Methodology note: ComRes interviewed 2,010 GB adults online between 9 and 11 September 2014. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes also interviewed 250 health care professionals in the UK online between 19 and 23 September 2014, and 100 medical students in the UK online between 25 September and 1 October 2014. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at on ComRes' website.