Pharmaceuticals and Health: An Overview
The UK’s health industry is dominated by Europe’s largest single organisation — the National Health Service. As the UK’s largest employer, with approximately one million members of staff, it would be a real challenge to find another sector that can match the diversity of careers that the NHS can offer graduates and professionals looking for a change.
While state spending on health dominates the sector, the private health market is gaining in importance. Not only has demand for private medical insurance grown dramatically since 1980, the government has turned to the private sector to meet high demand for routine operations.
Checks and balances
Despite the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the world’s most fiercely competitive and heavily regulated in UK, the value of UK pharmaceutical exports is £12 billion making it the industry with the highest trade surplus. The industry employs more than 70,000 people in a diverse range of companies. Around one quarter of those are graduates.
The sector develops and makes both prescription and “over-the-counter” medicines and vaccines. Therefore every stage of a product’s development is scrutinised by regulators who have to ensure drug safety. While drug development is extremely expensive, the rewards can be dramatic with successful products achieving sales worth billions.
GSK states that its mission is “to improve the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer”. Headquartered in London, the company employs more than 100,000 people in 116 countries and is the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world. Its main focus is on six major disease areas: asthma, virus control, infections, mental health, diabetes and digestive conditions. It also produces many “over-the-counter” medicines such as Gaviscon and Panadol and the smoking control brands Nicorette and Niquitin. The company supplies one quarter of the world’s vaccines.
Considering that many pharmaceutical giants often get embroiled in negative press, graduates may be pleased to known that despite being a global pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca also promotes a positive mandate of “global responsibility”. The company, also based in London, employs approximately 66,000 employees in more than 100 countries and focuses its resources on six therapy areas. These areas include some of the world’s most serious illnesses and together represent a majority of the world’s most fatal diseases: cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience and inflammation. AstraZeneca spends, on average, more than $16 million (£8 million) every working day on the research and development of new medicines that meet patient needs.
The pharmaceutical companies stress their commitment to research and development and their vital role in healthcare. For these reasons alone, this sector is clearly a rewarding place to work. Furthermore, the gross domestic product per employee is more than £85,000 which means these workers also contribute more to the UK economy than those in almost every other sector. Salaries are therefore comparatively high.
But the industry is, however, the source of public concern and criticism. Recently this centred around the power of the companies to dictate prices and the slick marketing of branded medicines when cheaper “generic” alternatives are just as good and much more affordable.
Putting the effort in
Several of the companies involved in the industry offer potential recruits a range of employment options and graduate development programmes, as well as modern apprenticeships for people without degrees. The industry has also signed up to the governmentsupported scheme that integrates higher education learning with industrial placements. These are called graduate apprenticeships.
As with the healthcare sector, the qualifications needed to get employment in one of UK’s pharmaceutical companies depends on the career path you choose. These are the main options:
• Drug discovery
• Animal Technology
• Clinical Trials
• Medical Writing
• Regulatory Affairs
• Sales and Marketing
• Information Technology
• Human Resources
• Training and Development
Science obviously underpins the success of the sector and there is a wide range of career paths at the cutting edge of development including drug discovery. “But you don’t have to have a science degree to be involved,” the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s head of education, Sarah Jones, says, “companies need people to work in areas such as recruitment, public relations and design so they need people from a variety of backgrounds.”
Healthcare: The private sector
The independent health sector has grown in significance as its partnership with the NHS has developed. There are now more than 300 independent hospitals in the UK and nearly 80 private patient units in NHS trusts. Furthermore, there are 90 independent psychiatric hospitals or units and nearly 500 independent clinics and medical centres that provide GPs and diagnostic testing services. These are provided by a mixture of commercial and not-for-profit providers.
The vast majority of people who use mental health services in the private sector are NHS patients. Private companies or charities provide most hospice services. All of these providers are regulated and inspected by the UK’s Healthcare Commission or similar bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The market for private dentistry is also growing fast as more dentists are choosing to opt out of NHS provision. This shift towards private practice means there is a shortage of dentists willing to do NHS work in some parts of the country. The government is attempting to solve this by allowing Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to commission dentistry (from independent dentists) for NHS patients.
While demand for private medical insurance is higher now than it was 20 years ago, demand has levelled off in recent years as NHS waiting times have fallen. Demand is also heavily skewed to the highest earning groups and is much more popular in England than in Scotland and Wales. Across the UK around 15 per cent of people are covered by private healthcare and BUPA, BMI Healthcare, Nuffield Hospitals and Capio Healthcare UK Ltd are among the largest providers of private or not-for-profit hospital services in the sector.