Pharma’s role in helping cash-strapped patient groups during COVID-19

Charities are suffering. It has been estimated that 10 percent could go out of business by the end of the year, as fundraisers are cancelled and donations from the public dry up amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, of course, includes patient groups, which provide vital information and support to millions of people in the UK. These services play a crucial role in helping people manage their conditions and in doing so, help to ease the burden on the NHS.

The Government has announced a £750 million rescue package for the sector, £22 million of which has been ringfenced for health charities facing increasing demand due to COVID-19. However, even the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has admitted that this additional funding will not go far enough to meet the giant hole in charity coffers, and some organisations will inevitably go out of business.

For many patient groups, especially those smaller ones, survival will mean a reliance on the generosity of the general public, its members and corporate partnerships or sponsorships.

For pharma and patient groups, this creates an awkward dilemma. Both stakeholders are well aware of the public scrutiny they are under in relation to conflict of interest and the need to protect the independence of the patient representative. A recent review by the BMJ found that patient organisations contributing to appraisals by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have widespread, and often not entirely transparent, financial relationships with the industry companies.

At the same time, the value of involving patients in medicines development is well documented and as patient-centricity starts to become embedded across the lifecycle of medicines, working relationships between industry and patient groups have never been stronger.

This is reflected in the 2019 Patient View survey, which found that patient group attitudes towards the pharma industry as a whole were more positive in 2019 than in any of the previous years since it began. There is still some distance to travel before pharma is fully trusted as a healthcare partner though – just 33% of patient groups in the UK thought pharma’s reputation is “Excellent” or “Good”.

So, what can pharma do to support one of its most important stakeholders in this great time of need?

Corporate sponsorship can only ever go so far if a patient group’s independence is to be protected, but there are other ways a pharma company can offer support. One recommendation put forward is a shared corporate funding pool detached from current commercial objectives or treatment areas.

Beyond corporate funding, organising virtual staff fundraisers, dedicated to selected groups, seems an obvious place to focus. Not only would this generate much needed funds for patient groups in a way that wouldn’t infringe on the organisation’s independence (since they would be donations from individuals), but it would also provide employees – working from home and fed up with the monotony of lockdown – with something meaningful to do in their spare time.

The reputation of pharma has never been better amongst patient groups and yet there is still a lot of work to be done. Finding ways to show industry support during this perilous, post-Brexit, mid-COVID time can help strengthen that bond further and contribute to the survival of vital patient services.

At Aurora, we are planning to show our support for the sector with an agency-wide virtual fundraiser. Look out for the team’s activities across our channels in the weeks and months to come.

If you have any ideas as to how pharma could appropriately support patient groups during their time of need, please share in the comments section below this blog.

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