“The UK has always been at the forefront of scientific excellence,” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said

Life Sciences Industrial Strategy supports a digital NHS

New strategy calls for action to support digitisation of the NHS

[London, UK] The UK government has published today the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, supporting the digitisation of the NHS through a number of recommendations on data sharing, innovation and adoption of technology.

It says the continuation of improvements in health outcomes and life expectancy rates is dependent on the use of new platforms, including ‘digital tools, robotics’ or AI.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed that the Department of Health will invest £14m in 11 medical technology research centres, looking to foster collaboration between the NHS and the industry and bring innovation to patients faster through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The announcement is one of the first steps towards the implementation of recommendations from the strategy, along with a commitment to invest £146m into the discovery and development of medicines in an effort to improve outcomes.

The Health Secretary said:

“The UK has always been at the forefront of scientific excellence. From the discovery of antibiotics to our world-leading 100,000 Genomes project, we have a proud history of medical breakthrough and innovation.

“I want patients to continue to be at the front of the queue for the best treatments available, whether that means early access to trials, giving staff brand new innovations and technology to work with, or being at the heart of research to share best practice quickly across the health and social care system.

“A strong and growing life sciences sector ensures this, particularly as we negotiate our exit from the EU.”

Digital innovation hubs and medtech centres of excellence

The strategy recommends the creation of two to five hubs for digital innovation across regions of three to five million people, helping researchers engage with ‘meaningful datasets’ while following recommendations made by the National Data Guardian.

Furthermore, it recommends the development of four to six centres of excellence that would support single medtech domains, with examples given including ‘digital health’ or ‘molecular diagnostics’.

The government should set up technology institutes, the strategy recommends, that would offer ‘technical training’, part of a plan to a create a digitally-ready workforce across the ‘NHS, commercial and third sectors based on a gap analysis of key skills’, along with an apprenticeship scheme for data sciences.

“It is clear that the single most important changes in healthcare will emerge with the increasing digitisation of a wide range of information.

“Everything from patient records, X-rays, pathology, images, genomics, healthcare management tools, and the input from a wide range of digital monitoring devices will soon be available to healthcare providers digitally and will fundamentally change the way we think about human disease and how to best manage it,” it is added.

Call for consistency on data standards

The strategy calls for the implementation of recommendations made by the National Data Guardian as safeguards for health and care data and the Care Quality Commission proposals, along with a ‘wider national conversation with the public’ to provide accurate information:

“One of the most important resources held by the UK health system is the data generated by the 65 million people covered within it.

“The development of platforms to enable deidentified health data to be appropriately used to research and develop technologies would be of great benefit to patients in the system, to those managing the NHS and to researchers attempting to develop new therapies or improve NHS care.”

Further proposals include a call for mandatory ePrescribing across hospitals and a national consistent approach to interoperability standards.

Meanwhile, Phil Booth, medConfidential Coordinator, said:

"The missing piece in here is patient consent. While the strategy mentions Dame Fiona’s Review, it doesn’t actually say whether the human tissue they want to buy will be consented or not.

"Until we see what the NHS itself is planning, there’s nothing in here that wasn’t on the life sciences wishlist 4 years ago from the flawed care.data scheme; and nothing to suggest they’ve learnt any lessons.

"The Government has confirmed that patients who have opted out will be contacted about the new arrangements; but what will those who trusted the NHS to do the right thing be told?”

With £64bn in turnover, the life sciences industry employs more than 233,000 people in the UK.

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