Medicines and the NHS, an uncertain future?

Tom Doughty

Associate Director - Healthcomms

If you’re like me, you might be spending the NHS’ 75th birthday reflecting on how it has evolved since its creation. How has people’s experience of treatment changed? And how different could the NHS look 75 years from now?

The answer is it will probably look very different. Advances in pharmaceuticals and medical technology over the lifetime of the NHS have given us treatments that Aneurin Bevan himself could have barely imagined. We don’t know how much further we could go in the future.

The NHS and medical advances go hand in hand. Our system of universal healthcare has been vital in enabling innovation to thrive by supporting access to medicines and vaccines free at the point of use. From antibiotics to vaccines to innovative cancer therapies, the NHS has provided the architecture for the research, testing and roll out of new treatments.

Now, eligible patients can receive exciting cell and gene therapies, and soon will have even more transformational options such as mRNA vaccines. These classes of treatment use the body’s own resources to fight disease and have the potential to change the way a range of conditions including rare diseases and cancers are treated forever. The science around these treatments has advanced rapidly in the past 20 years but could be traced back to the discovery of DNA at King’s College London in the 1950s.

Unfortunately, the NHS ecosystem that has supported so much progress is now struggling to keep pace with the science. Medicine is becoming more personalised and industry is thinking in terms of treatment platforms, potentially moving away from the usual methods of licensing. These platforms are challenging conventional practice on regulation, HTA and healthcare delivery.

The problem is that without wholesale change to tackle these challenges, the UK puts at risk its position as a world leader in the launch and adoption of innovative medicines. The Government needs a more coherent approach to life sciences and medicines access policy that makes it easy for the NHS to be a partner to innovation.

Bringing together the relevant bodies to discuss what they want the NHS to look like in another 75 years, and how they might get there, might be a difficult sell. But the NHS in 75 years depends on the decisions that are taken now. There’s an exciting future to be grasped if we want it.’

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