In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wide-ranging and severe impact on healthcare provision and services in Scotland has encouraged the NHS in Scotland to look towards innovation and increased global investment. This will further the development and implementation of life-saving technology to address short-term and long-term health challenges.
In a recent episode of Chamber UK’s Innovating Healthcare series, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, expressed his thoughts on the way forward for the NHS in Scotland. In particular, towards increasing engagement with innovation to tackle growing healthcare concerns in the country, as well as helping Scotland become a leading global destination for investment in life sciences.
An Engaging and Integrated Approach in Promoting Innovation
The need for innovation in healthcare has been a topic that has gathered attention in recent times. In the wake of the 2019 pandemic, governments have unequivocally expressed urgency in targeting health outcomes through integrated strategies that administer and study innovation in drug uses through clinical trials. However, much of this process has been stagnant in the pilot stages. Humza Yousaf echoes this in his dialogue with the panel, telling the large audience, “I don’t think we have fully grasped the opportunity that life sciences can unlock in terms of immediate and future challenges in public health. Governments can suffer from ‘pilotitis’.” In this scenario, unlocking, upscaling and engaging in conversation with other stakeholders in academia, industry and the NHS are crucial factors. These factors can be seen to guide the trajectory of integrated approaches to healthcare while providing an avenue to move beyond the inertia around pilot trials.
While this integrated approach that binds academia, industry and the NHS in a common mission is imperative, Yousaf furthers his stance on the need for Scottish Government leadership by stating,
“If I am being really upfront and honest, the leadership has to come from the top—the Government, the chief executive, the chairs from the organisations that drive innovation and health service.”Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
An integrated approach implies making sure that the health service buys into the vision of what is trying to be done—bringing together various aspects of society to achieve the common goal of bettering community healthcare. What is of the essence, moving forward, is taking the NHS on this journey. Therefore, governments must step forward in taking on this responsibility.
The Conversation on Funding and Risk-sharing
Mounting frustration by clinicians and organisations for the lack of funding and decision-making in government for life-saving technology and drug testing, begs the question of more accessible funding for healthcare in Scotland. In this scenario, Yousaf argues for the importance of designated stakeholders, such as Chief Scientist Officers (CSOs). These stakeholders can then act as interfaces that allow for targeted checks for clinical trials and take the results and recommendations forward to the Government, where the process can be expedited quickly. In this way, the travesty of losing out on valuable technology that could save lives can be mitigated.
The concern of the lack of supporting resources is also echoed by clinicians in the absence of risk-sharing by the NHS in the development of products. While being a good service-based industry in life sciences in Scotland, there is a dearth of product development due to the absence of resources to fund initial trials. In this scenario, making the NHS more involved in the process of product development has been echoed by the healthcare community. In response to this concern, Yousaf highlights the necessity for a mindset shift from the Government and NHS towards risk-sharing. He expresses,
“Sharing risk itself is not risk-free and so, there may be some failure on the journey to getting some success and that is not easy for the Government because we are dealing with public money and there is always scrutiny in that and so, there always has to be a calculated risk, which requires a mindset shift in that risk sharing.”
Such risk-sharing is already visible in parts of the Government and other bodies, such as the Scottish Enterprise, where investment may often reap great rewards but might not work out other times. In this scenario, a mindset shift and leadership by the Government in terms of risk sharing, can help reap shared benefits in times when risks lead to rewards.
Developing Improved Life Sciences Skills
With the current imbalance between demand and supply of healthcare, the future workforce is an essential part of the life sciences strategy. With the Scottish Government’s investment in the domestic pipeline—working with academia, universities and industries towards understanding future needs—the Cabinet Secretary emphasised the importance of the international pipeline:
“The other one that we do well in and should be proud of, but there is scope to do better in, is the international pipeline. Scotland is a great place to work, we punch well above our weight when it comes to life sciences and our reputation globally. We also have international offices where life sciences is one of the key areas that we try and promote.”
Moving forward, data collection for trials will play an increasingly paramount role in ascertaining funding decisions, as well as drug roll-outs. In this scenario, public concerns around building trust in the use of health data for research and innovation were addressed by Yousaf through the lens of presently increasing community support and volunteering for clinical trials and drug testing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He told the audience, “If it wasn’t for individuals who came forward, the trials for vaccines would not be here. While we all have a role to play, the mission going ahead is going to be far more effective if it comes from people who can talk more about how their lives have been improved and changed and bettered because of life sciences.”
This article will appears in the most recent edition of the Chamber UK journal. To receive your free copy, sign up here