On Monday we made it to Manchester for the second of the Life Science UK and AMRC ‘Making new treatments available to all patients: Supporting medical research and the uptake of innovative products’ party conference breakfasts.
We had an impressive turn-out for our Labour conference discussions, which included varied representatives from across the healthcare industries and charity sector. Steve Bates, Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association, chaired the event. We were also joined by Kevin Barron MP and Baroness Thornton, both of which have proven track records in health policy. Mr Barron used to chair the Health Select Committee and Baroness Thornton was until recently a key member of the Labour health team – she is well known for her input into the health bill reforms.
Baroness Thornton and Kevin Barron MP joined us to share their views on healthcare innovation
While discussions at the Lib Dem breakfast seemed to centre on the theme of investment, the discussions at the Labour conference breakfast seemed, unsurprisingly, concerned with the uncertainties faced by the NHS and its partners in the wake of the recent reforms. This is, of course, a very pertinent issue for BIVDA as we are still not sure where the provision of pathology services will fall in the new NHS.
Discussions started with a case study from Claire Francis at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. She spoke about the barriers to uptake of the drug Kalydeco which will benefit 350 people suffering from cystic fibrosis each year. The drug is being assessed by the North of England Specialised Commissioning Group but she said that patients with Cystic Fibrosis are waiting and there are gaps in the process.
The responses to this case study emphasised that thirty years of NHS reorganisation had done nothing to change the culture of the NHS which makes uptake of new technologies difficult. There were also some concerns regarding the solution to barriers to innovation as it seems impossible to ‘square up’ the local decision making agenda with full implementation of NICE guidelines. This is a crucial point as a significant criticism throughout the entire process leading up to the Health Act was that the centralised nature of the reorganisation simply contradicted the spirit of the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper.
The conversation did eventually get to the topic of investment. Steve Bates raised the question of international perception of the UK as an attractive market for life science investment. The response from those who were representing multi-nationals was that the government emphasis on life science investment was extremely welcome but sadly the UK was still yet to be viewed as an attractive market. This was largely due to the low prices and slow uptake of new technologies. It was agreed that although the UK is world class for research, so are other nations such as the US and China. It was agreed that it is impossible to remain a world leader in research if you cannot translate your research to the commercial market. These arguments are all too familiar to those who have been involved in work on the UK Strategy for Life Science and BIVDA looks forward to feeling its effects.
While debating uncertainties regarding the GP’s role in the new NHS, some interesting points were raised about the increasing importance of patient groups. Will the new commissioning role of GPs make it harder for them to operate as patient advocates? As we saw at the Lib Dem breakfast last week, industry and charities are already working together in viable research partnerships. Perhaps we will see this extend to advocacy work in the future too?
Catherine Meaden, Head of Policy at ABPI; Steve Bates, CEO of BIA; Ramona Sequeira, MD of Eli Lilly and Kevin Barron MP
Keep an eye out for coverage of our third and final discussion breakfast at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham next week.