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Working with the NHS

A common misconception amongst companies is that the NHS is one organisation. The reality is that it is made up of many organisations (i.e., lots of different legal entities):

  • GP practices provide primary care – each GP practice is a business that is run by its GP partners
  • Heath and Care Trusts provide services in the community (e.g., district nursing, family planning, health visiting)
  • Acute NHS Trusts provide primary, secondary and/or tertiary care
  • Mental Health Trusts provide specialist mental health services
  • Ambulance Trusts manage a 24 hour emergency response service and non-emergency patient transport
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) purchase healthcare services on behalf of their local population with input from local GPs and other clinicians

plus a host of other organisations that oversee, assist or facilitate NHS services. A list of authorities and Trusts can be found here.

Most companies are interested in selling their product/services to hospitals. Hospitals are run by acute NHS Trusts (and one Trust can manage a number of hospitals). Over the last few years NHS Trusts have been required to become NHS Foundation Trusts (FTs). Whilst NHS Trusts and NHS Foundation Trusts can provide the same patient services, FTs have more flexibility to manage their affairs and finances, and they are accountable to local people and patients, as opposed to being subjected to direction from the Department of Health (DH). Trusts obtain FT status by demonstrating strengthened board governance, financial disciplines that promote long-term financial viability and a framework to secure delivery of quality services – their work is overseen by Monitor.

NHS organisations, as publicly funded bodies, must comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This means that the public can request information held by them. There are some exclusions to the disclosure of the information requested including confidential information. However, confidentiality alone doesn’t guarantee that the organisation won’t have to disclose the information, if it is in the public interest to make the disclosure. Therefore, agreements with NHS organisations are likely to refer to the FOIA.

NHS organisations are expected to manage their intellectual property (IP) in order to maximise its benefit for patients and also generate income for patient care (where appropriate). Many NHS organisations appoint IP advisers in NHS Innovation Hubs to assist them with their IP management. If a company collaborates with an NHS organisation, then an agreement should be put in place to cover how any IP generated during the collaboration will be managed: who will own it, how it will be freely disseminated or commercialised, and how any income generated will be shared. 

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