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All things Pharma

A new dawn for UK medtech

Peter Ellingworth, Chief Executive of the Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI), talks to Medtech Business about the opportunities and challenges faced by the UK medical technologies industry at a time of serious changes in the health economy.

The Office for Life Sciences (OLS) has been created at a crucial point for the economy and the NHS. Health systems face huge challenges, and medical technology is fundamental to doing things more productively. The medical technology industry can make a difference, not just to patients but to efficiency and effectiveness. ABHI has been closely involved in presenting the key issues to the Government. The issues were aired thoroughly at the ABHI’s UK Market Conference on 24 November.

What are the major challenges facing the UK medtech industry in the coming years? How can they be overcome?

The major threat to the UK medical technology industry in coming years will be reduced funding in the NHS. With predictions of budget cuts of up to £20 billion, the challenge to the device industry is demonstrating the value of its products and showing healthcare providers how medical devices can have a real effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery and provide a real boost to the UK economy. David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, has already stated that “better quality and innovation will be the main driver of efficiency savings”.

A significant threat is the disconnection between policy intent and actual delivery. In a climate of fear, it is local organisations making the wrong short-term decisions on product choice that will impact on patient care and long-term efficiency. It is now up to medical technology manufacturers to prove the ways in which innovative devices can deliver improved patient care in times of tightened budgets.

How does the ABHI define innovation in medical technology? How can the industry best demonstrate the value of its innovations?

Innovation can mean a new way of tackling a clinical challenge and perhaps a disruption to the established way of doing things – which may change the ‘patient pathway’. Clinical data of various kinds may show that there are benefits to be gained in adopting such new technologies. Data for medical device technologies are different from data for pharmaceuticals, because of the way in which engineering development takes place. The industry works with health technology assessment and evaluation leaders to refine the methods through which medtech demonstrates its value.

What is the role of the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) in helping to advance the innovation agenda for the UK life science industries?

The OLS published the Life Sciences Blueprint in July of this year. The foreword, co-authored by Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Health and Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, states that in the establishment of the OLS “the Government clearly signalled the importance of the industry in building the Britain of the future”. The document clearly sets out the key actions that the Government will undertake in order to “transform the UK environment for life sciences companies”.

These are based around four key pillars. The central pillar for medtech is the place of the NHS as an innovation champion. Key to this is the creation of the NHS Life Sciences Innovation Delivery Board, which puts the NHS at centre stage in terms of accountability for the uptake of innovation, and will oversee that process. The Government also recognises the need to nurture a more integrated life sciences industry, and will focus on education and addressing the skills gap to this end.

The third pillar is access to finance, including a £150m investment fund aimed at leveraging enough private investment to build a £1 billion 10-year venture capital fund. There will also be an £18 million ‘RegenMed’ programme of investment to support key areas of commercial R&D.

The final pillar will be based around marketing the life sciences sector to promote UK and NHS brands at flagship life sciences events.

How is ABHI involved in the ongoing work of the OLS on behalf of the UK medical devices industry?

After the initial work to create business cases for the Blueprint in which ABHI led work on adoption and accountability, a number of working groups continue to deliver the plans set out in the Blueprint and ABHI is involved in a number of these. Through this involvement, ABHI is ensuring that medical technology gets equal billing with the other sectors involved and that the importance of the issues our sector faces is fully recognised.

The medical device sector is distinct and quite different from the others involved in the OLS, so it is crucial that we are able to demonstrate to policy makers the importance of addressing these needs directly. ABHI recently published our industry recommendations in a document entitled Enhancing Patient Care: The Role of Medical Devices, which outlines the factors necessary to support the devices sector. These include the need for the NHS to plan for the uptake of new technologies, as the current way of running budgets disincentivises early adoption. We would also like to see medical technology assessed in the appropriate manner, not merely by using the methodologies developed for pharmaceuticals.

ABHI’s main focus will be turning rhetoric into action. With the establishment of the OLS and the comments from David Nicholson, we have seen acknowledgement of the benefits that medical technology can have for patients, healthcare providers and the economy. ABHI will be continuing to work with the OLS to ensure that these words are now turned into direct action to support our sector, which the Government itself has stated could play a vital role in “driving growth and prosperity”.

How can the medtech industry help the world’s healthcare systems to deal with the challenges of the future?

The major challenges to healthcare providers in the coming years will stem from ageing populations and increasing numbers of people who are overweight or obese. Britain’s ageing population will add to the 17.5 million people already living with a chronic condition. There is also a shifting behavioural dynamic in patients, who are becoming more intelligent and assertive consumers of devices and healthcare. Industry has a significant role to play in supporting the NHS to deliver the care people demand in the settings they feel most comfortable in. There is currently huge growth in new products that enable people to spend less time in healthcare settings and more time at home, especially around areas such as telehealth and telecare. The real challenge for healthcare providers is adapting existing treatments so that they can be administered in the home and don’t require the patient to make frequent trips to hospitals or GP surgeries.

Future NHS budget constraints will mean that manufacturers have to offer increasingly innovative solutions. Industry must demonstrate the long-term benefits of its devices and prove to healthcare suppliers, at home and abroad, that investing in the most innovative technologies can have a reduction on the patient pathway costs and release money back into the healthcare system. ABHI continues to work with the Department of Health and associated bodies to demonstrate the value of providing patients with the most innovative treatments and to highlight the dangers of short-term cutting back on treatments – a practice that is both detrimental to patients and more expensive in the long term.

ABHI will continue to shape the healthcare landscape in the UK to make it a favourable environment for UK medical device manufacturers to thrive. We continue to play a significant role in the OLS, and will be working with the NHS and our life sciences partners to represent the devices industry and achieve our goals.

Peter Ellingworth

With predictions of NHS budget cuts of up to £20 billion, the challenge to the device industry is demonstrating the value of its products and showing healthcare providers how medical devices can have a real effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery and provide a real boost to the UK economy.

ABHI UK Market Conference 2009

This year’s ABHI UK Market Conference provided an essential up-to-the-minute guide to new information, ideas and strategies and enable delegates to take advantage of the latest opportunities in the UK healthcare environment.

In 2009, the signals from the NHS towards the medical technology sector have changed radically. In July, the Government stated that “UK life sciences have everything going for them: world-class facilities, talented scientists and entrepreneurial flair. By championing innovation, the NHS can support the life sciences industry in developing ways to improve people’s health.”

Yet there are frequent reminders of cuts to come in the NHS budget over the next few years. “The NHS faces the biggest squeeze on its funding since it was founded in 1948, despite pledges by Labour and the Conservatives to spare health from spending cuts in the next parliament.” (King’s Fund/IFS, July 2009)

The ABHI UK Market Conference made sense of some of these conflicting messages. Senior government, industry and NHS experts informed, educated, stimulated ideas and promoted discussion on how the new drivers will work, what has changed, how they will affect the sector and implications for the future.

Look out for our report on the ABHI UK Market Conference 2009 in the December issue of Medtech Business.

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