Following over 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry engaging directly with NHS decision-makers, and having spent several years working for the NHS as Head of Engagement, Karen Cooper recently joined Mtech Access as Senior Consultant in our UK market access team. Here, Karen shares her experiences from her first few weeks at Mtech Access and tells us more about what she’s learnt over the course of her career.
With over 25 years’ experience in Pharma, what have been your key experiences and roles in your career so far?
Having started in the pharmaceutical industry back in 1995, I took the traditional career route starting as a representative in Primary Care, then expanding my experience across Secondary Care and into Healthcare Development and Market Access roles. I spent the last 9 years as a Regional Business Manager developing and coaching teams of Account Managers in Primary and, latterly, Secondary Care.
I have also spent time in the NHS as Head of PBC Engagement, working with GPs to support them in implementing the Practice Based Commissioning agenda; this was a period of time in my career that I absolutely loved and it helped me grow beyond measure.
What are the most significant changes that you’ve seen in the pharmaceutical industry in that time?
I was lucky enough to start work in the pharmaceutical industry when accessing customers was relatively easy. For many reasons over the years, this has become one of the biggest challenges that Account Managers face.
It is, therefore, so important that the value propositions Account Managers are bringing to their customers are relevant and meaningful to the NHS, and that customers are approached in a way that is respectful of their time, with individual calls tailored to suit the needs of each customer.
The days of driving activity for the sake of numbers and a ‘one size fits all’ approach are long gone, and true account management principles needed to be adopted and embedded to ensure Industry is truly working in partnership with the NHS for mutual benefit.
Change is a constant in the NHS, but the current developments are the biggest piece of transformation I’ve experienced in my career to date.
Not only are there numerous new customers that Industry need to acknowledge and engage with, but the move towards System working is potentially going to have a huge effect on pathways and guidelines, pricing policy, and strategy. This is likely to impact on the way Industry engages with the NHS for the foreseeable future.
Covid obviously had a huge impact on everyone and the way they experienced work but with the seismic shift to online working, and digital omnichannel engagement, the role of the Account Manager and indeed all roles, in the majority of industries, will never be the same.
We definitely need to take on board the NHS mantra of “locking in beneficial change” as routes of engagement will now, without a doubt, continue to be a hybrid of virtual and face-to-face interactions. This is something we need to embrace.
What inspired you to make the move from industry to agency?
This move was the next logical step in my career development as through working with Mtech Access I’ll be able to hone my skills in market access whilst capitalising on the enthusiasm, curiosity and natural drive I have to work with the NHS.
I’ve always been very excited when I’ve identified opportunities where NHS drivers and industry goals align. In this role I can immerse myself in supporting Industry to develop their value propositions and brand strategy to truly align with what the NHS need, in order to help as many patients as possible.
Having worked with Mtech Access in my previous role, I’d seen first-hand the truly unique relationships they have with their NHS Associates and what a wide range of NHS roles they can call on to inform their feedback and support to clients. This is why I wanted to join the NHS Insights and Interaction team specifically.
The huge range of clients that Mtech Access work with was also a massive pull, as the level of experience I’ll be able to gain to grow my expertise across numerous therapy areas, products and devices is really exciting.
When you commissioned the NHS education session as a Regional Business Manager, why did you choose Mtech Access?
As mentioned above, the work I was involved in commissioning in my previous role was around raising awareness internally of the current NHS changes and specifically aligning them to the needs of the business I was working in at the time. We also wanted to support the NHS to deliver on their agenda and develop tools to assist them in doing so.
Whilst researching who would be best suited to this piece of work, Mtech Access stood out as they truly listened to our needs and ideas and immediately could see how this aligned with our customers and the NHS Long Term Plan in particular.
They were able to immediately recommend Associates that they work with to support us with the work, and these were authentic and relevant people, currently active in the NHS.
The NHS-facing team at Mtech Access are also legendary in the Industry (in my humble opinion) for being one step ahead of the game. That is both in terms of being aware of what is happening in the NHS and the implications this will have on Industry, and being able to share this information with true insight and enthusiasm. During discussions, they came across as an “honest broker” who wanted to support us in our goals whilst having the best interests of the NHS at heart. This, along with their overall proposal, is one of the things that truly won me over.
Now you’ve joined the team at Mtech Access, what have you got involved in?
The first few weeks have been taken up with a structured Induction programme that has given me a greater understanding of Mtech Access as a business and the different services they are able to offer. In my previous roles I have been very familiar with post-launch materials, such as payer toolkits and budget impact models, but I’ve been less aware of what goes on before a product comes to market. It’s been fascinating learning more about everything from systematic literature reviews to global value dossiers.
As well as starting to become involved in some new as well as ongoing projects, I’ve been observing colleagues conducting NHS insights sessions for clients. These have included Advisory boards, strategy huddles and ‘A view from my window’ sessions.
The latter was new to me and was amazing as it involved NHS policy expert David Thorne sharing the latest updates from the ever-changing NHS, before interviewing an associate from the NHS who could offer insights on these specific changes from their perspective in their role.
These sessions have been both live and over “Teams” and were for a field-based and market access team. They gave the client the opportunity to hear from a respected person from their key customer group and they were able to ask questions in a safe and open environment and receive honest and insightful feedback and insights.
We have also had an away day, during which it was great to meet new colleagues face-to-face and spend time with four of our NHS Faculty, which was both interesting and inspiring. It also highlighted to me that not only do our Associates and Faculty members work with us to support our clients and the NHS, but they too gain lots from working with us too, so it’s a win-win-win situation!
We’ve also had an office team social event, which was great to meet other colleagues that work in the Manchester office. This was useful to get to know colleagues from the office, as in Manchester, most are working on different projects in health economics or global market access; of which I have little experience.
Going forward, what will your role at Mtech Access involve?
Moving forwards, I know my role will be varied and exciting. I will be supporting clients with their UK market access strategy and setting up bespoke projects, whilst also facilitating NHS Insights workshops, Strategy Huddles, Advisory Boards and View from my Window sessions. I will be working in a consultative manner with new and existing clients to understand their challenges and goals, and to develop projects to meet their needs in line with NHS strategy whilst validating our projects through our NHS Associates. I’ll also be working with internal colleagues to give an NHS, as well as a pharmaceutical company, perspective on internal and client projects.
In addition to my interest and knowledge of the changing NHS, I bring a wealth of experience from the pharmaceutical sector, and so can interpret Policy into meaningful opportunities (or challenges) that my clients need to be aware of. With my operational background and years of experience working with Key Account Manager teams, my focus will also lie on making deliverables impactful and easy to use, ensuring that not only are we providing tools and support for our clients, but we are driving this through the implementation phase as well.
When you are not at work, what do you like to do?
Living in Anglesey I spend most of my spare time walking my two Large Munsterlander dogs, Frank and Ralph on the beach. I’m also learning to garden having moved house earlier this year and inherited an amazing cottage garden that I’m trying not to break! Steep learning curve but loving it. Normally love to travel but obviously that has been hampered recently so looking forward to getting back to that as soon as possible.