Transforming partnership with the NHS, an agile approach to regulation, and accelerating patient access to new and improved treatments, will be of utmost importance in the Post-Covid landscape, according to a joint statement by Life Science professional bodies.
Life Sciences Recovery Roadmap: A joint report to the Life Sciences COVID-19 Response Group highlights six areas that will be crucial to the way MedTech works with the NHS in the future.
The six areas are:
- Transforming NHS partnership and supporting the Long-term Plan
- Developing a comprehensive strategy to improve UK manufacturing capability and supply chain excellence
- Encouraging ‘globally competitive’ R&D incentives
- Transforming the UK clinical research process
- Taking an innovative approach to regulation
- Accelerating deployment of new and existing technologies
Much of the report capitalises on how expediencies during the pandemic have shown it is possible to develop new systems at pace, and stresses that benefits won by NHS-Industry partnership working during this period need to be preserved.
Supporting the Long-term Plan
Building on and learning from the COVID-19 response, NHS leadership should develop strategic processes to involve industry in work to support NHS transformation and healthcare provision, the report says.
This should include the retention of changes in adoption of innovation and digital solutions, but also embedding new ways of working, including harnessing the potential of data, promoting self-care, bringing healthcare closer to home, and diagnosing and treating faster.
Industry is keen to work with the Government on how the NHS and health infrastructure can be supported during the COVID-19 recovery process and thereafter.
Industry also seeks longer-term recognition from NHS England/Improvement (NHSE-I) of the Life Sciences sector as a strategic partner in improving health outcomes, and felt this could be achieved through high-level collaboration to deliver NHS Long-term Plan objectives.
Manufacturing and Supply Chains
Although the report noted that supply chains had generally responded well in the crisis, it said additional resilience could be provided through improved demand forecasts and transparency along the supply chain. It called for support for supply diversification, international inventory management and the development of a strategic reserve of essential products.
In parallel, there should also be a focus on targeted support for UK manufacturing of medical technology and diagnostics. It recommended this be achieved by setting up a new group that is equipped to focus on supply resilience across the life sciences industry or through expanding existing groups such as the Health Technology Partnership (HTP) and Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Partnership (MMIP).
Manufacturing facilities being built in the UK could be supported by grants, and innovation funding made available for collaborative R&D.
A specific Life Sciences Council workstream to support growth in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) base would also ensure that UK manufacturing capability is broadened.
Accelerating deployment of new and existing technologies
The report notes that the COVID-19 response has shown that rapid scale-up of existing treatments, devices and diagnostics can significantly improve patient outcomes while making more effective use of NHS resources.
It saw the need for decisive action to build on this, especially as the NHS will now have to address the backlog of care for non-COVID patients.
The learning from the pandemic should be factored into a rapid evolution of NICE methods to support patients getting fast access to new treatments and technologies, it argued.
It also called for a practical assessment of opportunities and challenges in the health technology procurement system, that should be carried out with the support of the Health Technology Partnership.
In order for all this to happen, there would need to be a shared vision and a joint working group across DHSC, OLS, NHSE, NICE and industry to set out the level of ambition – and support NICE to make the changes that are necessary. This would need to happen immediately, given that NICE progresses further work over the Summer, ahead of the first NICE Methods Review consultation in October.
The report’s authors say: “COVID-19 has proven that in order to have a thriving and successful Life Sciences industry, which can be mobilised for such pandemics, as well as other public health emergency scenarios, the groundwork must be laid in normal day-to-day policymaking and operations within UK healthcare and the NHS.”
In an ambitious report, the Life Science industries are gearing up to make the positive changes made possible by the pandemic a standard part of the UK healthcare landscape.
On procurement, regulation and assessment there are all areas for swift and beneficial development.
For example, procurement during the COVID-19 response has shown that lowest cost alone is not the best strategy, and that patient safety is ultimately paramount. Future procurement strategy for critical devices should not be based on lowest cost alone, but should also consider value, secure plurality of supply and a multi-vendor approach in critical areas.
It links the constant emphasis on price in the NHS and single supplier contracts, with manufacturing being driven to low cost labour markets, weakening the resilience of UK supply.
Ultimately, a partnership approach is needed: systems should be rebalanced to include a commitment from the NHS to purchase as well as a commitment from industry to supply, at least for critical supplies.
The elective care and planned procedures backlog gives a pressing need to look at how MedTech will have to be involved at all stages of the future health planning and spending process, and local intelligence on population and pathway needs – particularly in the acute and specialist sector – will be required.
The UK Government has received the report through the Life Sciences COVID-19 response group, set up to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and will now consider it.
How can you support your NHS customer to deliver value-based care in the challenging months ahead? Wilmington Healthcare’s Covid-19 Impact and Recovery Tracker provides a visual understanding of the impact of decreased patient flows and delayed procedures due to the covid-19 pandemic.