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How ready is the NHS to adopt medtech innovation?

The Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, a key feature of December’s Queen’s Speech, aims to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the global life sciences industry after Brexit, giving patients faster access to innovative medicines and devices, while supporting the growth of the domestic sector.

This is potentially excellent news for patients, a positive step towards improved safety, and will hopefully make it simpler for clinicians to trial the most innovative medicines and devices.

But how ready are NHS systems to adopt and introduce new innovations?

In 2015, the Medical Technology Group published the ‘Innovation, Health and Wealth’ report, evaluating the performance of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the country in improving patient care through uptake of high impact innovations. This was followed by the Déjà Review report on the impact of innovation support in the NHS over the previous 15 years, setting out clear recommendations for supporting the successful development of the Accelerated Access Review (AAR).

In our latest study: ‘Our NHS: A Spotlight on the Innovation Landscape’, we assess the current mechanisms for innovation and technology, and whether they foster an environment that delivers timely treatments to patients and takes full advantage of the health technology on offer.

We look at the key NHS innovation organisations, and consider how they perform, interact and operate with one another:

Accelerated Access Collaborative

The AAC, established in 2018 to speed up patient access to ground-breaking products for some of the biggest killers, has provided leadership and guidance for the development of innovation and has created work programmes that NHS organisations can engage with and support.

However, the AAC needs greater support and prominence in the NHS architecture, as well as a more formal role in all aspects of innovation. It would also benefit from taking a broader view of innovation, steering away from supporting the uptake of a limited number of technologies.

Academic Health Science Networks

Set up by NHS England in 2013 to spread timely, widespread innovation across regions, improving health and generating economic growth, AHSNs play an important role as ‘catalysts and connectors’. They have contributed to the introduction of over 330 technologies that have benefited over 20 million patients.

There should now be a greater emphasis on the regional spread of such technologies and on the role of patient input in helping shape projects.

NHS Innovation Accelerator

The NIA has been successful in supporting the uptake and spread of, and patient centrality in, innovation. However, the programme now needs greater capacity to support a wider range of technologies across the healthcare system.

HealthTech Connect

HealthTech Connect has enhanced collaboration between the industry and the health service. But there needs to be improved clarity about its function and what it can offer.

NHSX

Designed to drive digital transformation in the NHS and care system to give patients and staff the technology they need, NHSX ultimately aims to improve patient safety and improve NHS productivity. However, some concerns still exist around the unit, including data privacy and required improvements in engagement with patients.

Our other recommendations include:

  • The implementation of An Early Access to Medical Technology scheme in order to provide funding and support for NHS organisations to ensure patients benefit from the right medical technology for their condition.
  • A review of the Innovation and Technology Tariff to enable a system-wide adoption of proven technology, as well as the prioritisation of value over upfront cost within NHS procurement mechanisms.
  • The ‘less is better’ mind-set, whereby initiatives aim to reduce demand by removing treatments, needs to change. Instead the focus should be on getting people through the system and back to full health.

The overarching culture of innovation also needs improving. This must come from the very top of Government – the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care himself. His commitment to technology is welcome, but he now needs to go beyond the exciting initiatives and embed a culture that really drives the adoption of new technology in the UK health system.

The current system nevertheless gives more focus to innovation uptake than ever before. It is now time to ensure that the value of technology is recognised and that patient access to proven medical technology is properly funded across the country to provide both reassurance to industry and certainty to patients, putting the postcode lottery beast to rest once and for all.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

January 2020

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