A new manifesto for health innovation and patient benefit

Hilary Burton

31 March 2015

Why innovation in health is urgently needed

The PHG Foundation has launched its 2015 manifesto setting out actions we want to see the new Government support in order to make the best use of health innovations in the National Health Service (NHS).

As Parliament was dissolved yesterday ahead of the General Election in May, the composition of the next government remains uncertain. Whoever is in power post 7th May, however, our new manifesto is directed at them and their parliamentary colleagues.

The value of the NHS as a test-bed for great biomedical science and health-related technologies is increasingly recognised; however, much more needs to be done to deliver the full benefits for health. We believe that this country needs to do more to ensure that our ongoing investment and undoubted global excellence in science and technology does not go to waste. Concerted action can make innovation in these areas yield rich dividends for health in this country, benefiting the NHS, patients and populations, and over-burdened health budgets too.

Last month the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called for radical change to make the NHS in England financially sustainable, with Chair Margaret Hodge saying that NHS finances were her ‘biggest worry’. This issue is not unique to England; health services in many countries are looking to science and technology to provide solutions to the ongoing problem of how to deliver better health care for less.

In some respects, developments in personalised medicine could be seen as exacerbating this trend, for example with tailored biological therapeutics for cancer, which carry a hefty price-tag. However, overall we believe that emerging science and technology, used properly, can deliver not only more effective prevention, identification and treatment of disease, but also essential cost‑efficiencies and sustainable models of care.

Harnessing innovative technologies in the healthcare system

It is our view, as long standing proponents on the value of science for health, that science-based solutions can deliver a more efficient and effective NHS. This will necessitate using genomics, biomarkers, sensors and other digital health technologies to create individually tailored treatment and disease prevention, and to empower citizens to have more personal control of their health and healthcare.

These are aims already recognised in NHS ambitions; ‘harnessing technology to fundamentally improve productivity; putting people in charge of their own health and care’ were recognised in the 2013 The NHS belongs to the people call to action document. We propose three priority areas, attention to which will allow future Governments to invest in modern, personalised healthcare to deliver these goals.

Information

Focusing on harnessing scientific, clinical, personal and other relevant data to improve healthcare, we call for political leaders to:

  • Champion the use of personal data for the public good
  • Mandate the development of NHS systems for data collection and use, including a national genomic database
  • Provide incentives for data sharing within the NHS, with appropriate safeguards

Infrastructure

Looking to prepare the NHS to put useful innovations into practice, we call for the new government to:

  • Create systems to support swift evaluation of innovations in actual clinical practice  and implementation of the best throughout the NHS, not just in centres of excellence
  • Incentivise widespread integration of genomics and digital health technologies into mainstream medicine, including prioritisation of corresponding health professional education
  • Provide patients with the knowledge and opportunity to make meaningful decisions about their healthcare

Individuals

Moving away from an outdated ‘one size fits all’ approach to a person-centred model linking social trends and scientific advances, we call for leadership to:

  • Develop new personalised disease prevention efforts as well as existing population-based approaches, supporting informed individual choices
  • Educate the public on the impact of genomic and personalised medicine on their health choices and foster debate about the future organisation of health systems
  • Enable individuals to access new innovations in digital health

Facing the future

We are confident that science and technology really can play a pivotal role in delivering a 21st century healthcare system, one that serves individuals better in terms of health outcomes and experiences; minimises expensive health interventions whilst maximising the benefit of those that are used; and reduces financial and other burdens on the NHS and care services. At the same time, we fear that the speed of delivery and degree of benefit will be limited unless the government acts to ensure that the NHS capitalises on the advantages that they could bring to the health and wealth of the nation. Our own efforts in the coming year will be directed towards achieving this.