Yes, would be the simple answer. There are significant skills and expertise within the sector which the NHS could tap into; that much has been a largely agreed upon fact for some time. The ability to further our health service’s medical and research capabilities and unlock potential new treatments and routes for diagnosis would represent positive steps forward for healthcare around the country.
But, despite that potential, is there an appropriate way to unlock it? Simply handing the keys to the castle over to external partners is rarely the right approach. Especially in the NHS, where there must always remain diligent oversight and governance, any partnership must be one of symbiosis rather than unilaterally advantageous.
Recent years have seen a number of national initiatives to promote better governance, increase transparency and develop more collaborative working. We’ve witnessed the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, representing a real opportunity for the sector to develop a more effective relationship with the NHS, based on a common purpose: improving population health.
In focusing on population health, looking to not just treat injury and ailment as a reactionary body but address the wider health outcomes of the population through intervention, policy and the closing of health inequalities and disparities, there is an opportunity to alleviate one of the biggest barriers to NHS adoption of new technologies and partnerships: cost.
Constrained finances, workforce pressures and significant demand on current services have made it difficult to turn any understanding and support of the benefits of a productive and mature partnership between the health service and life sciences industry into a robust and actionable implementation plan.
If those heightened pressures can be eased earlier in the process, reducing the strain on the NHS, then as a society we will be in a better position to focus efforts instead on introducing potentially transformative health technology for the future rather than the here and now. Government ambitions to make the NHS one of the world’s leading pro-innovation health systems is well-documented and part of that process requires collaboration and close, mutually beneficial working with the UK’s life sciences sector – an industry already at the forefront of research in many aspects of its field.
The establishing and maturing of the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), a dedicated unit set up within NHS England and NHS Improvement to coordinate with various AAC partner organisations – which include patient groups, government bodies, industry and NHS bodies – to drive forward innovation in the health service, represents the NHS laying down foundations to facilitate this implementation and achieve the pro-innovation vision of its future.
Meanwhile, the emergence of Population Health Partnerships (PHPs) has offered a potential new solution for the life sciences to support healthcare. Until now, MedTech and pharma involvement with the NHS has largely been around developing new treatments to common health problems, as oppose to delaying disease progression or preventing it entirely. Yet, in keeping with the recent shift towards primary and preventative care, there is now a growing demand for this latter route of medical development.
The insight, data analysis skills and experience of the life sciences sector workforce, heavily made up of clinical professionals, can help better inform decision-making, track patient outcomes more effectively and assist with new and emerging technologies gaining traction within healthcare, such as genome sequencing. Value-based population-focused and personalised healthcare can open vast new doors to both clinicians and patient care, but doing so effectively is underpinned by data, diagnostics and sophisticated technology. Partnering with a research-orientated, similar-minded industry represents key steps in overcome that hurdle, provided the correct partner is identified through careful planning, strategy and open conversation.
Life sciences have for a long time been appreciated but met with some distance and resistance from sections of the healthcare service. As we enter this new period of restoring services disrupted by the coronavirus and seek to introduce much of the new learning and collaboration we discovered during the pandemic, it might well be time to open the NHS’ arms slightly wider: for the good of the NHS, and the good of the patient.