Lords committee criticises the NHS over its ‘incoherent’ commitment to the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy

The Lords Science and Technology Committee has released a new report looking into the implementation arrangements for the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.

[London, UK] The government has failed to engage the NHS in the delivery of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, with the commitment of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and its arm’s-length bodies described as ‘incoherent, uncoordinated and ineffective’ by the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

In a new report released last week, the committee urges the government to address implementation arrangements for Sir John Bell’s strategy from August last year, which sets out recommendations for the UK to maintain its position as a global leader in the life sciences sector, with the NHS playing a key role.

But the committee says the NHS ‘'does not currently have the capacity to rise to the challenge of implementation’, with the lack of coordination between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, NHS Improvement, foundation trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) posing further barriers in the delivery of the strategy.

Evidence given to the committee suggests that ‘there have been no high-level discussions on implementing the strategy across the NHS’, with Miles Scott, Improvement Director with NHS Improvement, mentioning that the strategy is ‘not the centrepiece of what the NHS is trying to do’.

The report also quotes Sir John Bell as saying:  

“The senior people I have interacted with (…) want to see the health service deal with [the uptake and spread of innovation]. (…) The problem is (…) it is not clear who is driving the bus (…). Whoever is driving the bus, the windscreen wipers do not work and the exhaust is falling off.”

The committee points out that ‘almost all’ of the evidence received during their inquiry suggests that the NHS is ‘poor at adopting innovation at scale’ and that, unless it addresses this issue, it will not be able to ‘play a full role in the implementation’ of the strategy.

It is suggested that the government could explore the potential of offering financial incentives to NHS trusts that are doing this on the ground.

Government urged to address issues with data collection, interoperability, and public trust 

Sir John Bell’s report states that the data the NHS holds is one of its ‘most important resources’ which could underpin the growth of the life sciences sector.

Its use, based on appropriate safeguards, is identified as ‘one of the big commercial and healthcare opportunities’ that could provide significant patient benefits and financial returns for the NHS.

To realise this vision, the committee says the government should:

  • Ensure data is collected in a 'usable, standardised format' across the entire system
  • Address data interoperability concerns
  • Assess the implications of data access to third parties and release guidance for commercial use
  • Build public trust and acceptance in regards to the use of their healthcare data. 

In a statement, Lord Patel, Chairman of the committee, said:

“If implemented correctly the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy will make a major contribution to the future economic prosperity of the UK but what became clear throughout our inquiry is that it stands little chance of success without a detailed plan for implementation and clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability.

“The Government has an opportunity right now to get ahead of international competition. It can, and must, take bold steps to secure the future growth and expansion of the life sciences sector. This is even more vital as the UK prepares for life outside the European Union.”

You can read the full report here

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