The NHS could make significant cost savings if it made better use of diagnostic tests and patient information to tailor treatment to individual patient groups, according to a report by international researchers.

A survey of 600 healthcare specialists from four European countries – Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the UK – found more than 80 per cent believed “personalised healthcare” could cut medical errors, with 64 per cent saying it would improve patient outcomes.

A report on the findings, launched in London last week, says tailoring drug treatment to the bio-characteristics of patient sub groups, rather than adopting a “one pill fits all” approach, will result in greater effectiveness of drug treatments, fewer side effects and fewer drug errors.

Lead researcher and associate professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute Carl Johan Sundberg said “only a fraction of patients” currently benefited from prescribed medications.

“There is a growing necessity to individualise the way medicines are delivered,” he said. “Prescribed drugs work in 60 per cent of patients or less, and drug induced medical errors are very common in healthcare.

“By combining knowledge about genetics, blood and other biomarkers with lifestyle factors, healthcare stakeholders are facing enormous opportunities,” he said.

Just under half of the respondents to the survey thought personalised healthcare would reduce total healthcare spending in the long term, but 58 per cent envisaged a short term rise in spending over the next five years.

Alan Davies, chief medical officer for GE Healthcare in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told HSJ uptake of this approach in Europe has been relatively slow, with the exception of areas such as cancer, largely due to financial and regulatory constraints.

He said investing in targeted healthcare is not a “quick fix” but will improve healthcare productivity in the long term.

“In any system that spends £100bn on healthcare there is going to be wastage. This is about how that healthcare is delivered, and giving the right drugs to the right patients,” he said.

“Identifying non-responders to [drug] therapy will reduce wastage in the medical system because you’re not wasting money on ineffective treatments.”

Mr Davies added that moving away from a generic prescribing model towards a more outcomes based model of drug delivery would begin to drive personalised medicine forward.

“This will require a more integrated approach to prevention and intervention in health care, and for the health service to actively engage rather than adopt a passive or responsive approach,” he said.