Diary of a self-confessed NHS budget-holder

pharmafield logo - pharma news


In Part III of his diary, Omar Ali discusses the significance of process mapping and the wide reaching influence of health technology assessments and regulatory bodies.


I’m trying to step into the main meeting room but one of the CCG/GPs pulls me aside. It’s a mixture of a low-key signal and a discreet ‘thumbing’ to pull away from the group. He wants a quiet word and it’s clear that there are some key issues, agendas and directions that are on the table for this asthma meeting.

The process mapping event takes some four hours – evaluating everything and anything that ‘leads to an asthma admission’, followed by everything and anything that occurs after the admission and leads to discharge – which is then followed by QIPP ‘bottlenecks’, where re-admissions and inefficiencies occur.

It’s always a challenge having so many viewpoints – nurses, physicians, pharmacists, budget holders, and of course patients and carers who often change the whole paradigm when we hear about their experience, expectations and concerns around ‘choice’.

Thoughts for pharma

Respiratory is big. Whether on prescribing budgets, healthcare priorities, implementation of national guidance or QIPP streamlines. Companies haven’t yet got their act together on process mapping of care pathways, but it’s the only way to invest in prescribing up-front drugs for potential ‘return to the QIPP baseline’ over the next three to five years. Needless to say, whilst the NHS talks QIPP, pharma is getting used to it and patients are still puzzled by it.


With so much behind National Guidance/BTS, QoF and commissioning cycles, some companies are indeed getting into the mix with Clinical Commissioning Groups and supporting process mapping. That support is vital, as not only does it bring pharma in as key stakeholders, but more importantly there is a level playing field here in the same room bringing the cause back on track.

So often in the NHS we have silo budgets chasing after silo savings. Process mapping brings us out of our silos into the bigger picture and into the ‘process map’. Seeing it happen is a wonderful thing.


Given we make such a fuss around the cost of drugs, in truth we know two things: the most expensive drug is the one that is not being taken, and the tariff for an admission for COPD at £3,400 is more expensive than the annual price of the most expensive inhaler!

So where’s the issue? It goes like this. Pharmaceutical companies come to us quoting the costs of admissions in COPD then tell us how amazing it would be to reduce these hospitalisations.

They then tell us how amazing their COPD product is and tell us that we would be crazy to not buy their inhaler, which is a fraction of the cost of COPD burden/admissions. The GPs, nurses and patients love it and want it and state they ‘need it’. Medicines Management then look like the bad guys for not funding the said branded inhaler.


One of the big five companies has asked me to come and present to their European heads-of-country on ‘payer issues’ in the UK and the influence of HTAs.

It’s a bit short notice and I gather the VP for Europe, Middle-East and Asia will be there. Times are tough and I see this as an example of how the EU can join forces on some of the key payer issues beginning to filter through.

I have one question back to these pharma companies. What is your data on reducing these expensive hospitalisations in COPD? Because in truth, with the data, I buy the story.

In most cases pharma will then spin another story around how compliance is great, or a patient support programme is excellent. But given all the spin that has come on how much COPD costs me in hospitalisations, it’s a shame many of the companies don’t have the evidence to help me.

They have marketing but not the evidence. Show me the money. And the formulary will be yours.

Thoughts for pharma

There is no doubt that the UK is ‘different’, but I don’t imagine global HQ for any of the pharmaceutical companies readily accepting that – especially when the targets are high and sales may not be so. It sometimes takes global agencies to hear about payer issues ‘from the horse’s mouth’.

This was the quote stated to me regarding this piece of work/event. From my work abroad – at NICE I informally interact with a number of contacts in other countries who belong to their residing equivalents – I can’t stress enough the importance of NICE, the SMC and similar bodies.

The last SMC decision on pain management was quoted verbatim within two weeks by three different countries within the EU. I’m also aware from my US/value-based pricing work that when NICE rules on a drug the impact on the US healthcare system is far reaching.

Insurance companies download the information – they can’t believe NICE do all this work transparently and then leave it freely available for anyone to download – and the US agencies then use this information on deciding what percentage they will ask patients to pay.

So, if NICE say no and SMC say no, somewhere a butterfly flaps its wings and then a patient in the US, who has paid extra funds into a private insurance policy, will be told that this particular brand is not covered and that the patient will have to make an additional payment if they want the drug.

To be continued…

 Omar Ali is the Formulary Development Pharmacist for Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust and sits on the External Reference Group for Cost Impact Modelling for NICE. He may be reached on omar.ali@sash.nhs.uk.