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OPINION: Who is accountable for the NHS today?

By Erik Nordkamp
Managing Director, Pfizer UK

24 June, 2016

It’s an important question, and especially at time when the health service faces such unprecedented challenges.

And yet, as became clear during a recent round table discussion organised by Pfizer and Nuffield Trust, there is no straightforward answer. Mark Dyan, Policy and Public Affairs Analyst at Nuffield Trust, came to the same conclusion in a fascinating and insightful blog, published on their website after the event. 

The event brought together a broad spectrum of expertise – from senior NHS figures, to parliamentarians, to regulators – and I was delighted to be there representing industry. It was chaired by Nuffield CEO, Nigel Edwards, and with 'Chatham House rules' in force, we were sure of an open, honest discussion.

Clearly, everyone who works for the NHS is accountable to some degree, but only within their own area of responsibility. Who can take 'ownership' of the entire system? Politicians? Clinical Commissioning Groups? Regulators? NHS England? As Mark Dyan concludes: "There may never be a short answer to the question of who is accountable for the NHS. But our seminar left us with the impression that 'we could at least work towards a better one'."

To which my response would be: let's do it. And let's do it together – the pharma industry, NHS, politicians, and all other key stakeholders, working together in a trusting collaboration.

A lack of accountability doesn’t just result in a lack of transparency in process, but also leads to an absence of meaningful engagement among the people who have the potential to make a real difference. It’s bound to happen when no single group is recognised as feels 'responsible' for the future of the NHS – no one feels ready or able to bring all interested parties together to seek solutions.

Our message, as Pfizer and as a pharmaceutical industry, is that a constructive dialogue is critical to the future of a sustainable UK healthcare system.

As long as there is a lack of central accountability, both patients and the health service will be missing out. It’s time for us to be recognised as part of the solution. No one part of the system can fix the challenges we face, and only by working together will we ensure patients get access to the best care, while at the same time delivering value for money and better outcomes for the NHS. We all have a responsibility to play our part.