NHS Long Term Plan: focus on R&D and digital innovation

Allie Nawrat 7 January 2019 (Last Updated December 23rd, 2019 10:19)

The UK Government has launched the NHS Long Term Plan laying out the health service's focuses for the next decade. Two of the most interesting aspects are better focused R&D and making use of the latest technological developments to improve outcomes for patients.

NHS Long Term Plan: focus on R&D and digital innovation
Investigating how start-ups could drive innovation in the NHS

Following approximately six months of consultation and planning, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the largest single-payer health systems in the world, has published its NHS Long Term Plan to build upon the successes of the health service to date and create a ‘new service model for the 21st century’.

This represents the first guarantee by the UK Government that investment in primary, community and mental health services will grow faster than the overall increasing NHS budget.

NHS Improvement chief executive Ian Dalton said: “We need to build on these achievements and make the best use of the new investment to fundamentally reset how the NHS is run so that our growing and ageing population can get the right care at the right time and in the right place.

“Developed by those working within the NHS, the long term plan sets out an exciting roadmap for how we will do this together for the benefit of patients.”

Two of the most interesting aspects of the NHS Long Term Plan are a clearer focus on research and development (R&D) and making use of the latest technological developments to improve outcomes for patients.

Utilising technology to improve treatments for patients

Although progress with technology has been made through the Five Year Forward View, the NHS Long Term Plan aims to complete the programmes already initiated.

One example is the national roll out of the NHS App, which will be completed by 2020/1 and it will become the primary port of entry into the NHS. It allows patients digital access to NHS 111, the ability to book appointments, access to their GP record and the ability to make decisions about services, such as data sharing and organ donation.

In addition, the NHS has committed itself to collaborate with private sector companies in creating apps, especially for depression and anxiety, in order to facilitate their use by patients.

According to the NHS Long Term Plan, technology will also be utilised to eliminate issues with communication and data sharing across the NHS by linking various types of patient data so they can viewed in a single place by both patients and their clinician.

Artificial intelligence will be leveraged for this purpose, which will help to optimise clinical pathways and improve acess to specialist care because data can be uploaded and shared quicker.

Improving and streamlining R&D strategies

The NHS Long Term Plan also establishes a plan to increase R&D investment in order to improve treatment options and diagnostic patterns for UK patients and retain the UK’s status as a global medical research hub; the government has committed to trebling the health industry’s R&D to £1bn in ten years.

This will be primarily focused in specific areas viewed as transformative care, such as the newly launched the NHS Genomic Medicine Service.

It also intends to focus on R&D by encouraging more people to participate in clinical research, which will be aided by opportunities being available to view on the NHS App and an expansion of the real-world testing initative Test Bed.

This will be supported by quickening the pipeline for developing innovations from within the NHS with the leadership of a new advisory service for external partners called the Academic Health Science Network, which have regional NHS support. Any UK-led innovations will be backed for global export by a new collaboration between the NHS and Healthcare UK.

Finally, the government has agreed a voluntary scheme with industry partners to allow patients early access to cutting-edge, innovative, branded medicines. The scheme was agreed in November 2018 with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and involves faster assessment of clinical and cost-effectiveness of drugs by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), NHS funding for all members of NICE and early engagement with companies to ensure clinicians and the NHS is prepared for the new medicines.

In return, pharma companies will place a 2% cap on the growth in sales of branded medicines to the NHS; they will repay the NHS for any spending above this cap.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said: “Cutting-edge and best value medicines will be fast-tracked and we will cut our medicines bill by £930 million next year following tough but constructive negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry – money we can reinvest into better NHS services, alongside the NHS long-term plan.”