Last week saw a significant change in emphasis for the medical technology, science and innovation sectors in the United Kingdom.
On February 7th, Rishi Sunak announced a reshuffle of his government departments and the ministerial teams sitting within them. These changes took place just four days after the release of the much-anticipated Medical Technology Strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care’s answer to many of the sectors questions over supply chains and technology adoption.
Many are seeing this move as a positive step when assigning responsibility within government for medical technology, and science and innovation more broadly. In the past, responsibility was spread across government departments, with these areas not given the dedicated attention required in order for them to deliver effectively.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been too concerned with net zero targets; The Department of Health and Social Care has been – rightly – occupied with waiting lists, workforce issues and finance challenges; Even the Office for Life Sciences, the purpose built body to support the delivery of the Government’s life sciences and innovation vision, has been more focused on policy than implementation. The result is that innovation and technology have been left behind to other more pressing priorities.
In his reshuffle, Sunak created four new departments, including taking science, innovation and technology out of the Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and putting them into their own, distinct Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).
This move is aimed at boosting economic growth, and represents a push from the Prime Minister to meet his campaign commitments, to make the UK a science and technology superpower.
Many of DSITs commitments will likely run in parallel to the Medical Technology Strategy – to accelerate access to safe, effective and innovative medical technologies. However, a key question is, who will be held accountable for the success of these changes, and are they achievable?
The current Conservative government has a poor reputation for delivery of key policy plans. Many of its landmark policies have been wounded by the need to focus on the pandemic. The impact of policies such as Levelling Up have been minimal, and with most polls pointing to a win for the Labour Party in the next General Election, the government are running out of time to effectively implement such wide-ranging MedTech policies and priorities.
The Medical Technology Strategy has four core priorities, looking to ensure that the right product is available at the right price and in the right place. It aims to develop supply chain resilience and foster innovation. All these aims have been focuses of government-led organisations and government bodies for years. NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, NICE, the Transformation Directorate, AHSNs, the Access Accelerator Collaborative and the Office for Life Sciences have all tried, with little success.
If this push to position the UK as an internationally attractive hub for medical technology, science and innovation is to succeed, and if this statement of intent from Government that MedTech is getting the attention it deserves is to be believed, a proper implementation plan with relevant timelines for delivery is vital.
The bodies and departments responsible for policy implementation must be held to account to ensure changes are made, and that NHS supply chains are resilient; innovation is properly supported; existing infrastructure is properly enabled; and that crucially, patients have access to high-quality care, alongside improved safety and health outcomes.
Regardless of whether effectively implemented or not, challenges will likely still persist across the MedTech space. However, the Strategy can be taken as a love letter to the sector, and must be seen as a first step in the right direction.