Ahead of launching their report for 2022, the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences commission at Curia hosted a discussion, in partnership with Chamber UK, to talk about the work the commission has done over the past year and their plans for the future.
The discussion was hosted by Lord James O’Shaughnessy, the Co-Chair of the Commission, and he was joined by a host of experts in the field. Before taking a seat in the House of Lords and becoming one of the UK’s leading policy advisors, James was a Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care, making his transition to Co-Chair of the commission a natural one.
In the first half of the discussion, James and other contributors to the report discussed the reasons for conducting an inquiry into health innovation and the recommendations that have come out of it.
Back in February, it was announced that the commission would bring together leaders in life sciences, clinical research, the NHS, and government to set out a series of proposals to help aid health innovation in the United Kingdom.
In the ten months that followed, James has come to conclude that a future economy that doesn’t have life sciences and health technology at its core is “impossible to envisage”. He added:
“The group is motivated by twin imperatives. The first is about making the most of and amplifying the UKs incredible strengths in the life sciences, discovery research and health research.
A source of agreement in politics is that we need to maximise the impact of this sector if we are going to build an economy for the future.
The second imperative is to address the historically weaker areas of health innovation in regards to the structural challenges that we have. One of those, which are addressing is, is the issue of driving the uptake of the most significant health innovation.
Throughout our work, we have been setting ourselves the goal of creating impactful but practical recommendations that can be implemented at pace in a reasonable timeline. We have imposed deadlines on every single one of our recommendations, not because we want to cause trouble but because we want urgency.”
The ultimate aim of the report was to outline a series of recommendations to the government and the NHS with the view of them being considered and then implemented. To get to that point, though, many hours of discussions, meetings and inquiry sessions took place.
Professor Mike Bewick, the Co-Chair of the Commission alongside Lord James O’Shaughnessy, explains how the group decided to focus on four key areas:
“We chose four key areas that we felt were important and that were going to the health committee with its inquiry into innovation. These four key areas were data, integration, clinical research – and how we build on what we learned during the pandemic -, and finally, scalability.
We opted for an inquiry-type approach and conducted four two-hour sessions for each of these key areas. Across all of these sessions, we had over 29 contributors who all helped massively in their own right and helped ensure richness to the report.
In terms of recommendations, we have five from each domain so 20 in total. One recommendation that is worth highlighting as an example is one for clinical research and relates to the NHS app.”
Everyone has the NHS app now because of COVID so let’s utilise it fully so people can register for clinical research projects that relate to them via their mobile phones. We need to ensure that the people who volunteered for clinical trials during the pandemic are retained, not lost.”Dr Mike Bewik, Deputy medical director, NHS England
Professor Berwick added that building the report was an “incredible thing to be part of” and that was mainly thanks to “the number of contributors who are positive about the future.”
As Professor Mike Bewick mentioned, in developing the final report many different contributors from across the life sciences sector were called upon for their expertise. One group that contributed to the report was BearingPoint, an independent management and technology consultancy.
Their director, Hamish Dibley, was on hand during the report launch to offer his observations on both the process and report itself. He said:
“For me, the inquiry sessions and the corresponding recommendations represent an opportunity to reset in order to better respond to challenges which are individual, organisational and systematic.
I think there are many commonalities across all of the four key areas but when it comes to clinical research and scale, there shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach and we need to think about creating a regulatory environment that allows us to improve and scale beyond prototyping and piloting.
I think it’s possible the healthcare holy grail – better services at less cost – but it requires a reset in the way we think about understanding, managing and improving operational and system performance. This reset involves looking at this through the lens of the people we call patients.
The opportunity for us is monumental and I am honoured to be part of this.”
With health innovation firmly on the agenda for 2023, hearing about the key recommendations that the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences commission has made should fill us all with confidence about the potential of the UK becoming a life sciences superpower.
What’s more, Lord James O’Shaughnessy has labelled the repot a “milestone rather than end point” meaning this body of work will be continuous with the committee expected to work with more and more bodies to develop the existing themes of the report.