Efforts to develop and spread the use of innovative drugs and technologies in the NHS could be threatened by ‘unprecedented’ funding pressure, a government commissioned review has warned.

  • Government commissioned review headed by Sir Hugh Taylor sets out stark warning to ministers over threat to innovation
  • Report comes a month ahead of the government’s spending review
  • Sets out role for AHSNs in developing and spreading innovative medicine

The interim report of the accelerated access review, commissioned by the Department of Health and published this afternoon, includes a stark warning to ministers about the dangers of compromising funding for research and leading teaching hospitals.

The report’s foreword, by review chair Sir Hugh Taylor, who is also chair of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, said the UK had “the potential to build upon our thriving life sciences industry, through which our economy as well as our patients will benefit”.

However, he warned: “But we will lose ground if research budgets are threatened, if our leading academic hospitals cannot afford to support research or use the latest drugs and technologies to pioneer developments in the treatment of the most complex conditions, or if the wider system is paralysed by the cost pressures it is facing and fails to invest in the change and innovation it requires to deliver better care to patients more efficiently and productively.”

Sir Hugh said the key question for his review was whether the NHS could continue to work “at the limits of science”, as promised in the NHS constitution, while “facing unprecedented cost pressures and constraints”.

The warning comes as NHS England and the DH are in crucial negotiations with the Treasury over the health service’s spending envelope up to 2019-20. The government is due to set out its spending plans for the rest of the Parliament in its spending review on 25 November. It also follows a high profile row over tariff funding between England’s top teaching and specialist trusts, and national agencies, at the beginning of the year.

Sir Hugh, who is a former DH permanent secretary, said his group’s interim report had been kept deliberately “high level” and that much work needed to be done before a final report was published in spring next year. The interim report sets out five “propositions” (see box below).

Interim report’s five core recommendations

  • Putting the patient centre stage: patients should be given a stronger voice at every stage of the innovation pathway.
  • Getting ahead of the curve: a radically new approach is required to accelerate and manage entry into our health system for the best emerging products.
  • Supporting all innovators: in addition to accelerating access to a select number of the most promising new products, our innovation pathway should also be more responsive to the wider, irrepressible surge of innovation presented at all levels of the system.
  • Galvanising the NHS: the NHS must be an active partner in promoting innovation, and must be incentivised to adopt new products and systems quickly and effectively.
  • Delivering change: building on existing health system structures, a new system architecture is required at local and national level to accelerate access to the best new products and related models of care on a sustainable basis, within a framework of collective agreement to ambitions and goals.

The report made proposals for how academic health science networks should be developed and interact with other national agencies to drive innovation.

It said: “We will continue to consider questions around AHSN remit, while retaining their local focus, there could be more systemisation of the facilities they provide and stronger mechanisms for coordinating information and innovation across the network for aligning with the new models of care and for interacting with national partners”.

It added that all AHSNs should facilitate:

  • a network of “innovation exchanges”: a real and virtual forum in each AHSN area to ensure that the voice of patients is heard by innovators, regulators, commissioners and providers;
  • support for innovators to promote, test and launch products both within an AHSN area and across the wider national AHSN network, allowingfor testing at scale; and
  • prioritised funding to support change and innovation and to share learning and good practice across the network. 

The review was commissioned minister for life sciences George Freeman, who sits in both the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the DH.