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Keen to learn vital lessons from the pandemic to bolster the resilience of the UK health system, the UK Government and National Health Service (NHS) have launched a variety of new task forces, directorates and policy units to promote recovery and resilience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, England saw the rapid adoption of medical innovations across the NHS, from new vaccines and telecare, to integrated health apps and therapeutics, such as the NHS App. Currently, and partly as a result of the pandemic, the UK MedTech sector represents over half of all life sciences employment, and contributes billions of pounds to the UK economy (Medical Technology Strategy, 2023).

So, it is extremely positive that, with the 2023 Medical Technology Strategy, the UK Government has set out its plans for the industry, and the role MedTech can play helping the NHS solve many of its current challenges, from meeting the elective recovery targets (such as shortening waiting lists and delivering more procedures) to freeing up valuable clinician time. This article will explore some of the positive initiatives we’ve seen so far, as well as outlining some of the shortcomings of the new MedTech Strategy, and where there is still more room for positive reform. 

The MedTech industry was left wanting more

The MedTech Strategy was originally scheduled to be published in 2022, and was eventually published in February 2023. Built around four key priorities, it aims to address recent problems around the continuity of supply of devices, creating more innovative markets in England, enabling infrastructure to support data initiatives, and adapting to specific market focuses, such as appliances and diagnostics. It also aims to allow for better access to safe and innovative medical technologies that make best use of UK taxpayers’ money.

Though the MedTech sector was optimistic about the Strategy’s goals, it left some of the MedTech sector disappointed in the level of detail it offered. The Health Tech Alliance (HTA), a trade body for the UK’s most innovative HealthTech developers, commented:

We are encouraged by the fact that many of our key policy recommendations made it to the final report. However, the strategy goes nowhere near enough to truly address the challenges in MedTech adoption in England. It takes approximately 17 years for a device to be adopted in the NHS, and it is extremely disappointing that the strategy did not touch on faster adoption routes. It also offered no solutions for sustainable long-term funding solutions which are key for SMEs and the industry at large if they hope to be adopted within the NHS at this time of need.”

We have since learned that an implementation plan detailing how the principles within the strategy will be brought about is scheduled to come out in late spring/early summer 2023. The industry is hoping this plan will address fast-track technology adoption for proven technologies, combat health inequalities, and promote sustainability. 

Complicated MedTech adoption routes are holding industry back

As mentioned, it takes approximately 17 years for a new medical device to be adopted by the NHS. This relatively slow adoption rate causes problems as the NHS can be unable to react quickly enough to pressing health issues that need both attention, innovation, and cutting-edge resources.

For example, many of the Clarity’s Public Affairs team’s HealthTech clients have built solutions to some of the biggest healthcare problems we face in 2023, such as reducing diagnostic bottlenecks in cardiology departments, to advancing the existing standards of care for glaucoma. However, the slower adoption rate has meant that some of these critical HealthTech technologies haven’t been brought to market in time for the patients that need them.

As the strategy acknowledges, a factor behind this slow adoption is the abundance of products on the market. The go-to-market process for HealthTech is complex in England, and once companies have managed to figure it out they are added to a catalog of two million products registered for use in the UK. Of these, just a quarter (500,000) are regularly used throughout the NHS, and individual Trusts (organizations providing healthcare to local communities) usually only utilize 30,000. 

Not only can it be laborious for procurement leaders to figure out what the right product for them is, these figures also demonstrate how important it is to provide stand-out adoption mechanisms with data that proves they save clinicians’ time, hospital beds and overall capacity. Positive work to address this is already being undertaken, as the NHS Supply Chain is streamlining its operations and product categories to allow a more industry-friendly approach. 

The upcoming MedTech implementation plan brings a second chance

Themes that can help the UK realize its potential include fast-track adoption mechanisms, improved demand signaling across the system, and sustainable long-term funding. The lack of the first element has resulted in truly innovative products and devices circulating around various organizations trying to find the right pathway to the NHS, wasting both time and resources when they could have had significant impact on the ground, helping struggling clinicians perform their duties more efficiently.

Improved demand signaling would ensure that NHS organizations, Government, and regulators are constantly communicating with each other on what level of innovation is needed, preventing industry spending resources on things that do not meet the current need. Finally, national sustainable long-term funding should be considered over the life of the product, and with long-term cost savings in mind, so as to not put the pressure on hospitals to find the money from tight budgets. 

So, what does the industry need to do to ensure these important themes are included? At Clarity, we are pushing for significant advocacy and engagement work to take place around the upcoming Implementation Plan which offers a second chance for the industry to call for more concrete action. The Implementation Plan also offers the Government a chance to turn the ‘talk’ in the strategy into effective delivery that will save lives, and scarce NHS resources. Cutting-edge technology, Artificial Intelligence, and digital transformation are all terms well-known to those within the health landscape, but sadly, they are not synonymous with our UK health system – but there’s a chance to rectify this in the upcoming Implementation Plan. 

Though a cross-departmental approach is needed when implementing such a critical piece of policy, the landscape is very challenging  to navigate when industry and patients would like to feed into the plan. Clarity’s aim, via its trade bodies and clients, is to support the HealthTech industry to engage with various public organizations, like the Office of Life Sciences, MedTech Directorate, Department of Health and Social Care, and the Accelerated Access Collaborative.  

While England is currently behind some other countries when it comes to HealthTech adoption, if it can simplify and fasten the pathway for proven technologies to get to clinicians and patients, it will be propelled into being a world leader in the sector, which will save, and improve, countless lives.

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