29.09.2020 | Health Strategy

Partnership opportunities between the NHS and UK Pharma

By Anni Neumann

During the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors are using social media more than ever. Data from public social media such as Twitter, and private physician network Sermo, confirms that doctors are using these online networks significantly more since the start of the pandemic.

Doctors are not only talking a lot about COVID-19 on Twitter, they are just talking more on Twitter about anything at all since the pandemic started. Data from CREATION Pinpoint, which tracks the online conversation of healthcare professionals (HCPs), shows that HCP tweets posted per day increased from around 700,000 in December to a peak of 1.1M per day in March 2020.

So what will the future hold for the healthcare sector after the COVID-19 pandemic? In a recent article, my colleague Laura analysed how HCPs around the world have been pondering the reality of life after COVID-19 and what might have changed as a result of the pandemic. HCPs generally are actively encouraging, and predicting, the long-term presence of Telemedicine in healthcare and there is a sense of a new and restored respect for the pharmaceutical industry.

The NHS, as the UK’s largest healthcare employer, and the Pharmaceutical industry are two of the key sectors that will shape the future of the UK healthcare industry and have been seen to have a greater level of collaboration with HCPs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Often I’ve seen these two sectors supporting HCPs’ needs individually, but is there the opportunity for the NHS and Pharma to work closer together? I looked at the UK HCP conversation and posts from UK Pharma and NHS Twitter accounts between May and June 2020 to find out what new opportunities there could be for collaboration in the health sector.

Is there alignment between NHS and UK Pharma communication topics?

It can be seen that the NHS is posting more content and that there is a consistency in the posting patterns between the UK Pharma and NHS Twitter accounts.

One trend this identifies is that the NHS and UK Pharma are mostly sticking to the weekdays to post their content. From experience, HCPs often post content on social media platforms throughout the whole week including weekends. For example, the biggest spike in the HCP UK respiratory conversation between June and July occurred on a Saturday.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for the NHS and Pharma to plan their content to be released on weekends to increase their reach to healthcare professionals.

Comparing the topics being posted by UK Pharma with the topics being posted by the NHS, there was little correlation.

The NHS talked more about mental health and their employees; whereas Pharma talked more about education and patients. Topics that gained most alignment were about digital services, guidelines and PPE.

Partnerships HCPs are already talking about

As well as considering the current messaging alignment between NHS and UK Pharma Twitter accounts I also looked at the HCP conversation and observed that HCPs have celebrated existing partnerships in their online conversations.

Partha Kar, a National Diabetes Specialty Advisor with NHS England and co-lead of Diabetes GIRFT with NHS Improvement, celebrated a diabetes partnership between the NHS and Novo Nordisk.

Another great example is from Klaus Schmierer, a Professor of Neurology, who shared the partnership in multiple sclerosis between the NHS and Novartis.

Meanwhile, Twitter posts originated by UK pharma accounts like Daiichi Sankyo UK, highlighted the importance of “forging partnerships that support the priorities of the health service and improve population health”.


Novartis UK also announced a partnership with the NHS to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic with wellbeing and resilience programmes.


Partnership opportunities for the NHS and UK Pharma

We have already seen some partnerships between the NHS and Pharma in the UK, that benefited patients and supported HCPs. Most of these partnerships are ‘offline’, but how could the NHS and Pharma collaborate together online to support patients and HCPs?

International Nurses Day created a big spike in the conversation as the NHS celebrated their nurses. From all the NHS Twitter accounts there were 1,708 posts referencing the awareness day, however UK Pharma companies posted just 6 times on the topic. This could have been an opportunity for Pharma to partner with the NHS in supporting nurses in this way.

HCPs come together on awareness days not only to raise awareness but also to stand together with patients and to advocate for a specific therapy area. Those days are good opportunities to engage with the HCP or patient community online and Pharma and the NHS could collaborate together on different online campaigns.

From a previous analysis on what HCPs think about Pharma, it was identified that HCPs would like Pharma to be a partner who educates rather than just sells their products. During the pandemic we have seen UK Pharma sharing NHS educational resources on Twitter, this is something that could become more commonplace for other important health topics.

The topics with the strongest correlation between the NHS and UK Pharma’s online conversations were guidelines and digital services. Guidelines are also very key for HCPs and there is often a lot of peer-to-peer HCP collaboration following the release of a new guideline, especially during COVID-19. UK Pharma and the NHS could collaborate together in supporting HCPs, to help them understand newly published guidelines with easily accessible and shareable resources.

COVID-19 has changed many things, but it also has created innovative opportunities. When considering topics which lack correlation between the NHS and UK Pharma’s online conversations, the topic of mental health stands out. During and beyond this pandemic support from employers and other health stakeholders is crucial for the sustained welfare of medical staff.

In a press conference on 16th March the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom said  “We’re all in this together and we can only succeed together”. I believe that by working closer together, Pharma and the NHS can support UK HCPs and ultimately the patients even better.

To understand more ways to support HCPs and discover their unmet needs sign up to receive the monthly CREATION Knowledge eJournal.

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Meet the Author

Anni Neumann

Anni has spent over 10 years working in the pharmaceutical sector and has been part of various global efforts to support healthcare and the pharma industry relationships. She is an award winning consultant with expertise on enabling cross functional pharmaceutical teams to add value to their health stakeholder communities.

Anni is part of a ladies chamber choir and being married to a chef she also enjoys very, very good food.

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