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What do the party manifestos say about medical technology? 

The MTG takes a look at key Conservative and Labour Party policies ahead of the General Election and explores how technology can be used to level up patient access to care.

Unsurprisingly the two main parties have a lot to say about the role of medical and digital technology in the future of the NHS. 

The Conservatives have pledged £3.4 billion of investment in health technology, promising to make the NHS app ‘the single front door’, expand their Pharmacy First model, and support remote consultations and diagnostics.

Labour has also pointed to the opportunities in digital health. Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, previously told The Times that he wants to put patients “in charge of their own healthcare” through a revamped NHS app. 

The party has also emphasised the importance of accelerating the adoption of new medical technologies by cutting red tape and streamlining procurement processes. 

But what might these proposals look like in more detail – and how best to make them work? 

The creation of a single pathway for medical technology

The MTG has called for procurement processes of proven and effective medical technology to be improved. Our last report into procurement of technology in the NHS found that innovators seeking to bring their products to the health service are still facing a lengthy and complex process.

We recommended the creation of a single pathway that would enhance the weighting given to value within the assessment process for medical technologies, particularly on the value to the patient and longer term savings. 

We also called for effective payment mechanisms to support the spread of approved technologies within the NHS. This would ensure equitable access to medical technologies for patients across the country.

Learning from the best 

The pledges laid out in the parties’ manifestos are ambitious – but the good news is that there are sections of the NHS that are already pioneering the use of digital technology to improve services and increase capacity. 

In fact, in the Question Time leader special Keir Starmer alluded to this by saying that he would “hit the ground running” by rolling out initiatives that have helped high performing hospitals drive down waiting lists.

In a series of reports, the MTG has tried to determine which areas of the country have worked through the backlog most effectively. By identifying these areas, we found case studies such as the shared referral pathway in Wakefield that have helped it become one of the highest performing regions in the country. 

But the reality is that this best practice has to be incentivised and driven by centralised initiatives. NHS England’s Clinical Entrepreneur Programme provides a good model for putting this vision into practice. When we spoke with its founder Professor Tony Young he gave two useful insights into implementing innovation.

Firstly you have to focus on the capacity and capability of the system. It’s important to focus on the changes to a pathway, changes to patient experiences and also the changes to what staff have to do. 

Secondly, it’s also important to realise that the population isn’t uniform. Different areas have different population health priorities and needs. You can’t test and uptake everything at once. When considering scale we should all work towards a system where the right innovation is available for those who need it most.

Regardless of the outcome of the next election, it’s an exciting time for those involved in the medical technology space, not least for the patients whose lives have the potential to be transformed by the growing use of the best available technology. 

June 2024 

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