The NHS medtech strategy: how is it playing out? – Med-Tech Innovation

The NHS medtech strategy: how is it playing out? - Med-Tech Innovation

David Lawson, director of MedTech at the Department for Health and Social Care, speaks at Med-Tech Innovation Expo 2023.

At the Med-Tech Innovation Expo this June, I was keen to see and hear more about the NHS’s medtech strategy.

Released in February 2023, it promised the most complete vision for the future of medtech in the UK for some years.

Trailed as a new way to harness the power of medical technologies to support and partner the NHS, post pandemic, it covers four priority areas the future government policy is intended to drive forward. They are: resilience and continuity of supply, creative innovation and dynamic markets, enabling infrastructure, and specific market focuses.  

There’s a lot of promising material in the strategy. For years what’s come out of government has been piecemeal – a procurement strategy here, a promise of a new innovation hub there; the medtech funding mandate, which gave a selected few products ringfenced funding; and the Life Sciences Vision, a wide ranging position paper on the entire healthcare sector but not specific to medtech; and some vague words of support in the NHS long-term plan refresh. So, to have such an industry specific policy feels like a sector first.

The strategy was covered in a keynote speech by David Lawson, director of medical technology, Department of Health and Social Care, who went over the main thrust of the strategy.

Priority One: Resilience and continuity of supply

This has clearly been built bottom-up from the experience of COVID. In that period, lines of communications between government and industry, and the NHS, improved no end because they had to; supply lines around the world are still compromised, and Brexit hasn’t made this facet any easier. So, constant open dialogue here is paramount and it’s good that the government has woken up to this. Sustainability is mentioned a lot, as medtech must assist the NHS its net-zero ambitions. You can be sure that these factors will play a big part in framework agreements and procurement matrices for years to come, as well as UK market access pathways.

Priority Two: Creating innovative and dynamic markets

The government itself notes that in 2021, there were around 60 different programmes supporting innovative technologies, representing over £1 billion of funding (estimates based on NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative data and DHSC internal analysis, May 2022).

But it also admits in the strategy that “despite the multiple pathways and significant funding, the innovation frameworks can be difficult to navigate, with the majority supporting only one of the many steps in the route to market – it is up to the innovator to research and link different programmes.”

Too true, and so a new implementation plan is promised with a more ‘joined-up’ approach – but we haven’t had the detail yet. 

Priority Three:  Enabling infrastructure

This is a really interesting one, as it takes into account not just the safety, quality, clinical effectiveness or cost of a product, but how it will be used, who will use it, who can access it, and even if it is needed. It exhorts suppliers to work with the NHS on understanding NHS demand, supporting clinical leadership in industry engagement, encouraging innovation in clinical areas of greatest need, and planning how innovations will be procured by the NHS to deliver patients the right products, at the right price and in the right place – more on this in a moment.

Priority Four: Specific market focuses

This final priority examines the parts of medtech industry that the NHS needs to work with – especially diagnostics – to create solutions to the current diagnostics backlog. Plus also to Part IX prescription items – commodity medtech – seeking to ensure genuine innovation in this are appropriately adopted. The strategy states that: “as well as a significant choice of product, clinicians and patients [should] have access to unbiased resources to help them compare and select the most appropriate product”. This sounds like the NHS is finally moving towards a single comparator platform, taking into account all possible products with the ability to evaluate and purchase different items for different clinical needs, or at least interoperable ones.

Therefore it is clear that the three core components of the medtech vision are:

Wilmington Healthcare has been supporting medtech to meet these aims for some years – particularly in area two, where we have been helping companies and NHS partners to look at whole pathway cost and the outcomes focus, and priority three, which covers access and availability for patients.

The first of these covers how a device will sit in the system – which means its effect on staff time, theatre time, estates and setting costs, length of stay, effect on emergency admissions and re-admissions, recovery time, patient experience and outcomes post-intervention, to name a few.  Upstream and downstream costs are taken into account. We give these insights to companies who can then tell decision makers a more complete and compelling story about the role of their product in the system.

The second looks at how and where they can be positioned in hospitals, tertiary centres and clinics to provide the best overall coverage for patients who need it, to derive the maximum possible benefit for them and the NHS -while affording companies more complete and wide-ranging market access. Which trusts really need your device? Are the patients most in need of it going to be able to access it?

So, the medtech strategy offers a good bulldog-clip of policies to improve the lot of both patients and the industry as well as the NHS. The devil as ever will be in the detail and how the strategy is followed up; a grip by the centre will be paramount, as will ongoing dialogue with companies.

In the meantime, Wilmington Healthcare offers you the chance to develop your own market access strategy with these ideas in mind, and make your engagement approach more NHS-friendly for now and the decade to come.