John Wilkinson, ABHI Director General, looks at the prospects for innovative medtech companies in 2008.
The late and slow uptake of innovative technologies by the NHS has long been a weakness of our healthcare system, and was highlighted in the first influential Wanless Report. British patients have often lost out as new treatments available in other countries only arrive in UK hospitals after a lapse of years. A wider implication of this trend has been the damage being done to the UK economy as technology start-ups – valued in other countries – are forced to move overseas to find funding and markets.
One of the key aims of the joint industry/Government initiative, the Healthcare Industries Task Force (HITF), was to address this problem of take-up of new technologies. After a period of uncertainty, UK Government policy now seems to be recognising the adoption challenges facing the NHS laid out in HITF. The interim report of the NHS next stage review being conducted by Lord Darzi announced the creation of a Health Innovation Council with a budget of £100 million to “act as the overarching guardian for innovation from discovery through to adoption, holding the Department of Health and the NHS to account for taking up innovation and helping overcome barriers to doing so”.
Also, in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review this October the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, pledged to fund in full the recommendations of Sir David Cooksey’s review into health research funding to maximise the translation of research excellence into health and economic benefit. This will take Department of Health research and development spending to over £1 billion by 2010–11. This increase, taken with the £682 million from the Medical Research Council, will help take the single fund for health research to £1.7 billion.
Vision and value
The Comprehensive Spending Review also states that the Government wishes to save money by “reducing variations in productivity across the NHS by spreading new technologies and best practice across the NHS”. According to the CSR, “reducing such unnecessary variation could potentially generate net cash savings of £1.5 billion per year by 2010–11”.
This is accompanied by a commitment to improve procurement practices, which the Government claims could “realise net cash-releasing savings of up to £1bn per year by 2011”. We must hope that this does not signal a continuation of the cost-cutting measures that have contributed to the current poor level of uptake of new technologies by the NHS, without reference to the increased productivity that innovation has brought in other sectors of the economy.
In order for Britain to continue to develop world-class technologies a healthy domestic market is essential, and in order for that to be maintained we need an NHS that procures intelligently, placing an emphasis on value rather than cost. John Wilkinson is the Director General of the Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI). More information about the ABHI is available on their website at www.abhi.org.uk.