The UK’s inaugural medical technology strategy: An innovation roadmap from products to patients
Medical technology, or medtech, is a key component of the UK health and care system. Optimal use of tech plays a critical role in supporting the system to meet the complex healthcare challenges of today, including the delivery of the elective recovery plan and the creation of new and improved ways to treat and support patients.
Moreover, medtech plays a key role in reducing health disparities, improving the management of long-term conditions, and supporting people to live longer, healthier, more independent lives.
However, realising this potential is extremely complex given the rapid pace of innovation in the sector, the sheer number of products on offer, the barriers to adoption across the system, and the extensive range of participants and stakeholders. In February 2023, the UK published its inaugural Medtech Strategy which sets out how the health and social care system can reliably access safe, effective, and innovative medical technologies. The vision focuses on three central objectives: right product, right price, and right place, with the aim of delivering high quality of care for patients.
Valerie Philips, health and medical technology expert, Frazer Bennett, innovation expert and Oliver Excell, expert in complex programme delivery, caught up with David Lawson, Director of Medical Technology at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), to discuss the impact and opportunities of the new strategy on innovation and healthcare.
Oliver: What impact will the strategy have on the UK's medtech industry and how will it help to position the UK as a global centre for medtech innovation?
David: Innovation (in and through medtech) is identified as a key priority of the strategy, and the aim is to put in place practical steps to drive the adoption of the right products. In parallel, having a strategy provides a positive signal to industry, alongside the planned update to the regulatory framework later this year on medical devices, of the importance government places on medtech. My vision is to realise medtech’s potential to improve patient outcomes by transforming the end-to-end patient pathway – from diagnostics through to prevention, and also for the UK to be that go-to location for innovation.
Frazer: I’m delighted that we have this strategy in place. It brings two things, as I see it. First, it signals a clear intent on the part of UK Government that medtech is an area of strategic importance to economic growth and, importantly, delivering better health outcomes. Second, I believe it signals the direction of travel. Too often I have spoken with start-ups, particularly technology-inspired start-ups, that say they struggle to properly grapple the ‘unmet need’ in healthcare, because Government, more specifically the NHS, is at best ambiguous but all too often unclear on what the priorities are. A strategy like this, properly followed-up with some more specific detail, is going to really help here.
Oliver: People are at the very heart of health care delivery, with clinicians on the frontline facing increasing challenges and pressure. How will the strategy directly impact clinicians?
David: One of the key barriers to innovation is adoption and this is simply because of the lack of awareness of the kind of innovation available. The new strategy provides the opportunity to put in place practical steps to increase that awareness. Equally, if we can improve adoption of innovation by supporting clearer assessment this should deliver real efficiencies for those front-line clinical teams and therefore improve patient outcomes.
Involving frontline clinical teams in terms of that assessment process and encouraging a culture that welcomes innovation will make frontline teams feel empowered to explore different changes in practice. This will help them to get the best score in terms of operational efficiency and patient outcomes.
Valerie: Clinicians are under intense pressure to prioritize their time. This strategy will ensure that the right products, with associated approvals and clinical evidence, will reach the frontline in a timely manner. Clinicians can trust that medtech innovations that with the strategy’s aims, are fitting for their specific patients and use cases. Ultimately, the strategy removes this burden from clinicians and enables them to focus on care delivery, knowing patient safety is assured.
Oliver: We know the NHS aims to become the world's first net zero health system. How will the Medtech Strategy support this ambition?
David: Over 60 percent of NHS emissions are linked to the supply chain. We've got a commitment to look at encouraging the circular economy – trying to increase the use of reusable and manufactured products as opposed to having a heavy reliance on single use products, which generate huge waste. medtech is a key enabler to achieve net zero by supporting the circular economy and building a more resilient supply chain. We will actively engage with medtech suppliers to ensure sustainability is a key tenant in their product offerings.
Frazer: If the Medtech Strategy achieved nothing else but made inroads into the challenges of sustainability, this alone would be a resounding success. What’s intriguing for me – as I look at sustainability challenges across different industries – is just how much we can learn, glean, and steal from other industries. This is true, in particular, in the Consumer Goods sector, where the pressures from regulators and consumers alike is driving meaningful advances in improving sustainability. One such example of how innovation can drive sustainability, is the recent launch of the PA / PulPac Blister Tablet Collective to replace plastics in tablet packaging with PulPac’s patented sustainable packaging solution.
Oliver: Industry has been desperate to have a clearer medtech roadmap. How can suppliers make the Medtech Strategy work to their advantage?
David: The strategy provides a signal to a more collaborative approach that we want to have with industry and we want them to play a key part in working with the system. It’s true – one of the frustrations suppliers say to me is that they don't have enough clarity around system needs and processes. The new Medtech Strategy helps solve that challenge by highlighting our areas of priority, and signaling where innovation is most needed to meet evolving health challenges. It also provides consistency over how we then assess medtech solutions at all levels of the system. It will help industry by giving them clarity on how to approach and engage with what is a very complex healthcare system.
The strategy also provides demand signaling back to industry and a clear roadmap on how to navigate from an initial concept all the way through to commercial contracts.
Valerie: Medtech companies need to plan their investment focus very carefully given the wide range of options and possibilities, limited resources and competing priorities. Having clear demand signalling via this UK Medtech Strategy will help medtech firms to ensure they are innovating and developing against clear unmet needs. This will ultimately help to reduce risk for the medtech industry and provide a platform for R&D focus.
Frazer: We have the inspiration and the intention and the direction – this is underpinned by the strategy. There is no doubt we have the innovation, that is, the smarts to create innovative medical technologies that can significantly improve health outcomes. What we also need to see, and the NHS ought to be unparalleled in its opportunity to provide this, is the smoother path to adoption. All too often, healthcare innovators will look outside of the UK for early adoption. Sometimes the NHS is just ‘too hard’ to gain access to; with a highly disaggregated procurement approach, local health systems that have differing, and sometimes contradictory, priorities. Let’s work out how the NHS can not only be the inspiration, but also the catalyst to adoption – set a world standard in the ability to embrace new technologies to make a real difference to patients’ lives.