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George Freeman - Minister for Life SciencesGeorge Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences -  “The Prime Minister has charged me with accelerating the uptake of transformational technologies in 21st century medicine


Our health system is facing enormous challenges:

  • an ageing population
  • health inequalities
  • the need for rigorous discipline in public finances
  • a medicines bill of over £13 billion in 2014 to 2015 with spending in this year expected to rise
  • the ever increasing public expectations of what healthcare can deliver

We are also facing a number of public health challenges in obesity, diabetes and dementia with dementia alone costing the UK £26 billion per year. All of this means that the NHS faces complex and difficult decisions in every area of its work. Research and innovation in the NHS are critical for addressing these challenges. We need to harness the best of our clinical, research, academic and industry expertise to meet and address these challenges.


At the same time there is a gap between our ability to innovate within the UK and turn these innovations into health benefits for the population and to grow and generate the wealth from our £56 billion life science industry we need to pay for our rising healthcare costs. As the UK’s first Minister for Life Sciences - jointly at the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - I want to see the NHS embrace innovation and become a true early adopter of new technology to help tackle the urgent productivity challenge of delivering better health outcomes for every pound.


The Prime Minister has charged me with accelerating the uptake of transformational technologies in 21st century medicine - principally informatics and genomics. And, to do that in a way that attracts inward investment to the UK in research and innovation, creates new companies, drives growth and prosperity and raises revenues that pay for the healthcare we are going to need more of as an advanced society.

The opportunities

With our world leading science base and the world’s only fully integrated health system, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of a new age of 21st century healthcare.


We have a strong platform from which to do this. I’m amazed by the sheer breadth of our dominance in global health - antibiotics, DNA structure, cloning. Health will be the booming industry of the 21st century. The emergence of advanced digital technologies and the widespread use of smartphones opens up unprecedented opportunities for treatment and prevention. In addition to the wide array of wearable technologies, there are no less than 100,000 health apps easily available to download allowing people to take more control of their own health and wellbeing. Despite almost 60% of adults in the UK owning a smartphone we know only 2% of the population has had some kind of digitally-enabled interaction with NHS. The range and sophistication of technologies offers us the potential to provide a more tailored and patient-centred approach to care.


Simple use of SMS messages can remind patients about appointments, medication and self-testing as well as allowing them to instantly update their records on key vital signs such as blood pressure or glucose levels. There is opportunity here for productivity and growth. The UK’s digital health industry is set to grow by nearly £1 billion in the next 3 years. The UK has particular potential in health apps, spurred on by initiatives such as Tech City in London and in health analytics. We are investing further to cement this advantage through initiatives such as Health North’s Connected Health Cities.


The Department of Health and NHS England have committed £650,000 to a new innovation prize to accelerate the development and scaling of high-quality, evidence-based and safe digital tools that improve mental health outcomes. Mental health disorders are the single largest cause of disability in the UK, affecting 1 in 4 people with an estimated cost to the economy of £105 billion per year. Digital technology could transform mental health service delivery by making effective interventions available to more people.


NHS England’s Five Year Forward View is a vision for the transformation of the NHS that all of us can get behind. It sets out how NHS England and its partners will commit to driving improvements in health through developing, testing and spreading innovation across the health system.


We need to understand better how these novel technologies and approaches work in the ‘real-world’. The NHS presents an exciting opportunity to innovators that until now has been greatly untapped. The test bed programme is a big opportunity to unlock the potential of the world’s only fully integrated health system, using it as the ultimate platform for assessing the real value of innovations. Test beds will partner global innovators with NHS organisations to trial digital technologies, including Internet of Things technologies, at scale and in a real clinical setting. Our global call to innovators generated a huge response with 376 expressions of interest submitted. Over the summer global innovators & health leaders have been joining forces at matchmaking events to form partnerships and identify solutions to local health challenges. I am excited at the prospect of the needs of healthcare and the creative energy of industry coming together to speed the implementation of digital technologies for patient benefit and to promote economic growth.


NHS England has established the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) which connect academics, NHS, researchers and industry to accelerate the adoption and diffusion of innovation helping to catalyse economic growth at the same time as driving improvements in the quality and efficiency of care. AHSNs are working with partners locally and nationally to develop innovation eco-systems right across the NHS, so that innovation is championed by all - from patients to CEOs. Nationally, they are core to the delivery of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), National Innovation Accelerator programme and test beds - 3 fundamental national delivery platforms for innovation.


And there are also many good examples of where AHSNs have led the diffusion of innovation in their geographical areas, to meet local clinical needs. Greater Manchester AHSN’s Innovation Nexus connects small to medium sized companies with the NHS to help strengthen their technologies and make them relevant to NHS needs. In 6 months, the Nexus has leveraged £1 million additional funding to support company growth and supported 60 companies: 12 are now receiving further intensive support; 5 have set up offices in the region; 2 have secured their first NHS contracts.


AHSNs also working all round the country to create the local infrastructure to allow innovations to thrive from supporting a remote monitoring system for women with gestational diabetes in Oxford to a light therapy mask for the prevention and treatment of diabetic retinopathy in the South West.



Accelerated Access Review
The Accelerated Access Review, independently chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor will look at the journey innovative products take, from clinical trials or proof-of-concept, right through to wide-spread adoption in the NHS. The pathway to adoption in the NHS is long and incredibly complex. It’s difficult for innovative things to get to patients. And for some products, especially med tech and digital, the pathway is not just complex but there isn’t really a pathway at all. This review will explore how we can speed up patient access to innovative medicines and medical technologies by capitalising on innovations in digital, genomics and personalised medicine; taking time and cost out of the development pathways for new products; and, making best use of existing NHS assets to create the best system in the world in which to design and develop innovative medical products.



Meeting the challenges
Meeting the challenges to our health and care system through these exciting initiatives needs a team effort. We need your help to create a culture across the health and care service that values and promotes innovation. By listening to patients, service users and professionals, the review is able to gather an in-depth knowledge of how this could be achieved and to find out what’s working well and what needs to be improved. The ultimate challenge is one of changing culture so we need to help one another look at new things from a different perspective. If we are to unlock the full potential of our health services, we need to nurture professional communities that prize innovation together. Working with new transformative technologies towards a more innovative NHS that delivers better value is what we should all be working for.


Source: Excerpt of speech from George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, Sept 2015.

Full text here.



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