George Freeman: The NHS can be a global pioneer for new technology

Posted On: 
9th July 2015

The NHS Test Bed scheme offers an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate new health solutions on the world stage

As the UK's first Minister for Life Sciences at the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills I want to see the NHS embrace innovation and become a true early adopter of new technology. The Prime Minister has charged me with accelerating the uptake of transformational technologies in 21st Century medicine and attracting investment in research and innovation to help us earn the prosperity we need as an advanced economy. All of this will help the NHS tackle the urgent productivity challenge of delivering more health for every pound.

For too long innovation has appeared as a cost to frontline NHS managers. Whilst our NHS has pioneered world-leading medical breakthroughs, from heart transplants to MRI scanning, for too long we have been a slow adopter of innovations developed outside of the system. This is why the NHS Test Bed programme is so crucial to accelerating innovation in the NHS. By creating ‘Test Beds’ of 1-2 million patients in a small number of selected cities, where we can assess the benefits of innovations in real patient pathways, and pioneering new models of paying by results, this new programme will allow us to unlock the potential of the world's only fully integrated health system to measure and incentivise the impact of innovation, making the UK once again the most inviting place in the world to invest in and develop medical innovations.

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We have called on innovators across the world to partner with our local systems in trialling new technologies and digital services. For example, this could mean equipping patients with wearable technology that, combined with new patterns of working for clinical and nursing staff, would help patients manage long-term conditions, such as diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, addressing any potential problems as early as possible, and help keep patients out of hospital.

In the past, we have sometimes seen excellent new technologies being tested on their own and therefore not being considered within a real NHS context. This exciting programme will address this shortcoming. It will give groups and individuals the unique opportunity to improve our health service by testing their ideas on a real scale, in a real clinical setting.

Working in partnership with 15 Academic Health Science Networks the programme will identify around five 'test beds' that will cut across a combination of GPs, hospitals, community health, social care and the voluntary sector. 

Each idea will be chosen on the size of its potential, how it works in combination with other technologies or services, and how it plugs the gap of a specific local clinical need. In return for an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate their new solutions on a global stage, successful bids will need to demonstrate benefit to patients as well as showing how they will reduce inefficiency and provide wider financial benefits to the NHS and the UK economy.

Alongside these Test Beds to accelerate adoption of “med tech”, I am putting in place a series of measures to accelerate testing and adoption of new drugs and look at how we can update the role of NICE and health regulators to speed innovation up. The Accelerated Access Review that was launched earlier this year – to be independently chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor – will revolutionise the speed at which 21st century innovations in medicines, medical technologies and digital products get to NHS patients and their families.

It will be through programmes such as NHS Tests Beds and the Accelerated Access Review that we will show the NHS to be a pioneer of new technology. By attracting innovators from across the world we will start to see ground-breaking solutions across our system that benefit patients and taxpayers alike.

Health is the biggest driver of the structural deficit. Accelerating adoption of innovation is the key to both productivity and prosperity.

George Freeman is Life Sciences Minister and Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk