When I started JMC as a sole trader 15 years ago I had limited ambitions. To see it grow to be recognised as one of the leading consultancies in healthcare policy has therefore far exceeded my expectations. I am indebted to my brilliant young colleagues for making the achievement possible.
JMC’s earliest days were marked by publication of the Wanless Report on NHS funding and the Labour government’s decision to increase healthcare spending to the European average. Even at the time, Wanless’s reflections on the past and projections for the future seemed a trifle hubristic. In particular, they took little account of the sweep of economic history in determining what the nation could afford. And so, sadly, it has proved, with a veritable gusher of cash being turned off abruptly in response to the financial crash. Seven years of feast have now been followed by nearing seven years of famine and the consequences for patients are beginning to show in ever greater profusion.
Most of JMC’s work has been funded by the life sciences sector. We are proud of our achievements in promoting innovative technologies for individual businesses and getting patients to effective treatments faster than might otherwise have been the case. The role of pharmaceutical and other companies in promoting the public interest goes insufficiently recognised. In particular, we have been fortunate to provide the secretariat to the Specialised Healthcare Alliance for the last thirteen years and been completely untrammelled in working with patient organisations and external stakeholders progressively to improve the quality of specialised commissioning. The London Health Forum’s initiative promoting debt advice as a means of improving mental health is another of countless initiatives which would have been impossible without the enlightened support of industry.
Clearly, the pharmaceutical industry is not without sin but the extent of the antagonism towards it continues to mystify. In part, this is doubtless due to its own ineptitude where communication is concerned, often preferring to retreat back into its shell rather than take on ill-informed criticism with the vigour it deserves. There is, however, also a sense that the industry provides a convenient whipping boy for the NHS, especially at a time when it is struggling to live within its straitened means. In combination with Brexit, this makes for a potentially toxic mix, carrying with it the genuine risk that companies which have been reducing their commitment to the UK for several years will accelerate that process, all at a time when the UK economy can ill afford to lose one of its crown jewels.
Leadership is hard at the best of times but more important when times are tough. It would be foolish to pretend that the challenges facing the life sciences sector will be resolved by a sudden fit of governmental largesse. At the same time, industry bashing will be a sure recipe for disaster. The better answer surely lies in a strategic accommodation which offers fair, predictable pricing for genuine innovation, while harnessing the scale of the NHS to accelerate market access in combination with a world-beating approach to the generation of clinical data.
JMC’s proudest boast over the years has been its ability to bring together sometimes unlikely partners for the greater good, built on trust. That need is greater than ever.