Projects in the UK’s healthcare, and life science sectors are critical to the country,both due to the essential public function they provide and their contribution to the economy. PwC analysis estimates that projects in these areas contribute £17.5 billion to the UK economy annually and generate 223,800 full-time equivalent workers.

The professionalisation of project management is expanding within these sectors. The pharmaceutical sector has employed dedicated project professionals for some time, project managers are increasingly specified in private and academic life science funding bids, and the NHS is actively developing the project profession internally.



Within the healthcare sector, analysis from Health Education England has highlighted that recruitments within project delivery for the NHS as a whole have nearly doubled over the last six years, from 2,500 to 4,500 annual recruits.


In the pharmaceutical sector, strong project management is recognised as a valuable asset in the process of developing new pharmaceuticals, testing them and bringing them to market efficiently and effectively.


Project management is well established in private sector life science projects, and there is evidence that it is moving into the research sector as project professionals are increasingly specified and sought after by management skills funders, especially on larger projects.

Type of projects

Projects in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and life science sectors can be broadly split between internal organisational transformation and sector-specific work, which is typically more externally focused.

Skills needs and gaps

Public healthcare:

Knowledge and experience of using change management within organisations was identified as a skill gap in public healthcare, with a desired ability of professionals to combine their expertise with organisational change strategy.

NHS project professionals interviewed highlighted that incorporating strategies to prepare for, manage and embed change will allow the NHS to deliver more effective and sustainable organisational transformation. However, it was highlighted this will require changes in behaviours and greater buy-in from current personnel.


Competition for skilled staff is strong in the private health sector, particularly in pharmaceuticals as

many project management roles demand staff with knowledge of process or medicinal chemistry as well as project management skills. Flexibility and strong communication skills were also highlighted as essential in the life sciences field, due to the need to collaborate with researchers.

The exploratory nature of research ensures that ‘completing’ a project and delivering outcomes differs from other sectors, and the project’s goals are subject to shift depending on the research progress and findings. As a result, our experts felt that project managers in this sphere need to be adaptable, capable of supporting researchers to explore findings while keeping the project on track.

Challenges affecting Healthcare and pharmaceutical project professionals

  • Technology infrastructure: technology advancement and digital transformation across large complex organisations.
  • Cost pressures: Public healthcare budget constraints and challenges over investment.
  • Uncertainty and disruption: Impact of Brexit, access to markets, recruitment and participants for participants.
  • Risk management and compliance: importance of ongoing education and training and regulation.
  • Scaling up: from small-scale lab research and testing to mass production.



Across healthcare, pharma and life sciences as a whole, the number of projects undertaken is predicted to remain largely stable over the next three years, although almost 30% of organisations surveyed expect to see project budgets decrease over the next three years. Challenges across health vary depending upon the sector and this section will explore the various challenges faced across public and private healthcare, pharmaceuticals and life sciences.


NHS Health Education England (HEE) is a system-wide organisation, delivering undergraduate and post-graduate clinical workforce training and development for the NHS across England. HEE has £4.5 billion spend annually, 36 offices across England, and around 300 project delivery personnel.

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CASE STUDY: The Babraham Institute

The Institute is involved in biomedical research, including research into healthy aging and molecular biology. Karen Vincent leads the delivery of strategic and governance projects for the Institute, and Robert Pyke, Babraham Institute’s CIO and Deputy Director of Operations, has been involved in project management for many years through work on IT transformation projects.

Read the full case study


Public Healthcare

Awareness of project management in the public health sector has been increasing and there remains opportunity for further growth. Professionalisation and chartership through APM has had a positive impact, and further recognition of the impact dedicated project professionals have will be important going forward. Effective benefit management and tracking, not only through costs but around the positive impacts on quality of life that effective NHS projects can bring, will highlight the benefits of project management and could lead to greater motivation and engagement among staff.

The NHS is starting to embed project management approaches within the organisation and adapting more project management to be people focused rather than using more traditional, construction-based approaches. The emphasis on people focused project management and bringing in professionals with excellent communication and people management skills is seen as crucial to the success of public healthcare projects.

Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences

An ageing population and greater focus on wellbeing will continue to stimulate growth the in the pharmaceutical industry as demand for new and improved drugs will grow. Project management approaches will continue to be crucial to improve processes through product development to managing complex supply chains. Our experts predict that bottom up approaches will become more popular in the pharmaceutical industry, especially when staff develop further in project management and can have greater input. This collaborative approach should see the benefits of project management recognised across the business and increase its uptake.

Although each of the sectors covered in this research has its own opportunities and challenges, we have identified some common overarching themes.

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