The Prime Minister set an ambitious target to make the UK a “life science superpower” and Curia’s NHS Life Sciences Commission will scope ways to deliver this bold objective in partnership with the NHS. There is no shortage of ambition and the Life Sciences vision is well rehearsed, yet the challenge for policy makers is knowing how to implement these recommendations to best effect.
The Prime Minister wants to build on the success of the UK’s coronavirus vaccine programme and apply it to other areas, including curing cancer rather than simply treating it. On a visit to a Hertfordshire laboratory in the summer, the Prime Minister said “I’ve long believed that we can invest more in science as a country. And we want to use that public investment to trigger waves of private investment.” The political will is there and for Government it is important that the wider healthcare and life sciences ecosystem is engaging with ways to implement an ambitious objective.
Despite the heroic efforts by the NHS, the pandemic is still impacting patients two years after the discovery of COVID-19. As the new Chief Executive of NHS England leads efforts to refocus efforts onto recovery, there are several key issues to address including clinical research, remote patient monitoring and commissioning to help reduce waiting lists and ensure that outcomes do not slip further. Between 2015 and 2021 the Government and its agencies published a total of 114 policy documents relating to the life sciences sector, amounting to more than 4,816 pages and close to 1.5 million words. The Life Sciences Council has a clear agenda to ensure implementation, but that plan requires simplification and clearer messaging with those on the frontline that are expected to make change happen.
While trials in general are struggling, non-commercial trials have recovered faster than commercial ones. The fact is that the NHS is struggling to recover and this is not helped by the ongoing pandemic and new Omicron variant. There has been an above average number of trials added to the portfolio c.1300, but recruitment and delivery remain a struggle. The most obvious cause is the closure of most outpatient services throughout the pandemic and that is still where most recruitment comes from.
As new NHS England Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard is refreshing the Long-Term Plan and due to publish in the Spring. NHS England is updating the section on research and innovation and Amanda has made this a personal priority for the NHS. However, the Government is keen to see the research community improve the way in which individual trials can help the system improve outcomes and reduce costs. This means that we need to talk about clinical research at all levels within the NHS.
At an Integrated Care System (ICS) level, there are several types of conversations already happening with the NHS and Department. However, the Government is keen to ensure that conversations are happening at both a strategic and operational level. They are aware that there is a significant difference between the ICS strategy and what is happening on the frontline.
The UK can also be the global leader for siteless trials as new innovative trials can be based here in the UK. There are many new patient engagement opportunities as trials are delivered at home. This is an opportunity for the UK to become internationally competitive with a focus on managed recovery.
The Government has also been working with healthcare delivery partners to improve the design of patient centred care and they are keen to understand ways to bring the research community together and enact change alongside the charity sector.
At an ICS level, the aim for Government and the NHS is to change the behaviour of the payer to ensure that they are incentivised to conduct research. The Government and NHS leadership is keen to make the case that research improves outcomes and reduces costs. As more patients are recruited, there is a reduction in the cost of care. The Commission can help the system to understand that research reduces waiting lists. As a result of the pandemic there is a stronger appetite for people to enrol into clinical research and there is a once in a lifetime chance to embrace this opportunity.
NHS Long Term Plan:
Amanda Pritchard is more supportive of placing clinical research at the heart of the NHS than her predecessor. With many clinicians still seeing clinical research as a non-essential service, there is a lot of work to do to communicate the benefits of clinical research to the entire system – not just decision makers. Ministers have been keen to hear from the ground and understand what needs to be done to change the patterns of behaviour from a frontline perspective.
Curia’s NHS Life Sciences Commission:
Over the next 12 months, this Commission will bring together leaders in life sciences, clinical research, the NHS, government and the third sector to set out a series of proposals to implement the recommendations of the new NHS Long Term Plan and a simplified set of life science policies. This programme will appraise where progress has been made, identify recommendations to drive ahead solutions and consider what success looks like around the world – applying best practice here in the UK.
The Commission will be chaired by former Minister for Life Sciences, Lord James O’Shaughnessy and by former Deputy Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Mike Bewick. An advisory board comprising of leaders from all areas of the NHS, industry, third sector and clinical research.
The Commission will help the Government to:
- Support the NHS to reduce waiting lists through world beating clinical research
- Deliver the objectives of the NHS Long Term Plan for clinical research at all levels
- Implement policy outlined by the Life Sciences Council
- Embed clinical research as a key focus for Integrated Care Systems
- Restart commercial clinical trials and ensure maximum trial efficiency
- Embed research at every level within the NHS
The Commission will:
- hold a series of inquiry sessions on key topics to identify solutions for government, the NHS and its agencies to implement over the next 12 months
- produce research to explain the scale of the problem and model how policy interventions will make a significant difference to outcomes within communities
- seek evidence and suggestions for improved efficiencies within the system
- present a series of recommendations to government on ways to enact their policy objectives
- build consensus at all levels within the system
To get involved:
Contact Curia Chief Executive, Ben Howlett on firstname.lastname@example.org.