National Health Service (NHS) England CEO Amanda Pritchard has raised concerns about the state of British healthcare in recent weeks and months, proclaiming that the NHS is in a worse place today than in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and that pressures on hospitals, maternity care and services caring for vulnerable people with learning disabilities mean that patients are not always getting the care they deserve.
Pritchard has also warned that the NHS, which has a budget of GBP 152 billion (USD 176 billion) that is set to rise to GBP 162 billion (USD 187 billion) by 2023, is facing an extra GBP seven billion (USD eight billion) in costs every year thanks to the UK’s soaring inflation rates. The Daily Mail reports that over seven million people in England are now waiting for routine operations including hip and knee operations and a record 30,000 patients endured 12-hour waits in emergency rooms last month.
A Decade of Success
Despite this unique kaleidoscope of challenges, Pritchard was keen to highlight the NHS’s successes – especially those achieved thanks to collaborative efforts with private industry – when speaking at today’s FT Global Pharma & Biotech Summit. In conversation with the FT’s Sarah Neville, Pritchard spoke of a “story of change and transformation” in her organisation over the past decade, moving away from its reputation as somewhat hostile to the pharma industry.
In particular, Pritchard noted that the establishment of a commercial medicines directorate by her predecessor Simon Stevens had been built up to today “offer hundreds of thousands of people access to drugs they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.”
Pritchard pointed to several ‘first-in-world’ and ‘first-in-Europe’ deals for early access to innovative medicines, including two drugs for lung cancer, one for peanut allergies, a subscription service for drugs that combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and a ground-breaking treatment for Hepatitis C in children aged three and over.
Also on the panel was NHS England’s National Director Specialised Commissioning John Stewart who added that the organisation had put more commercial flexibility in place, helping companies through the previously challenging appraisal processes of NICE, the UK’s health technology assessment body.
Pushed on whether the UK remains an attractive life science investment destination considering that Brexit means that it is today a relatively small market with a separate regulatory infrastructure to those of its European neighbours, Pritchard was bullish.
She pointed to the fact that the NHS represents a single access point for 55 million people, has “a hugely rich academic base” as well as data, a long-term partnership-based plan as set out in the country’s Life Science Vision, and a strong track record.
Pritchard also rebutted suggestions that the UK lags behind on access to innovation, stating that for every four new medicines available in Europe, five are available in England, and that the UK ranks third globally in terms of the number of medicines taken up in the first year after approval.
Both Pritchard and Stewart foregrounded how the NHS’s partnership-based approach had already led to important practical benefits for patients. For example, the NHS-Galleri ‘GRAIL’ trial has involved the enrolment of 140,000 participants in just 11 months and represents the largest-ever study of a multi-cancer early detection test.
Much of this work is happening under the umbrella of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, which gathers industry, government, regulators, patients, and the NHS to remove barriers and accelerate the introduction of new treatments and diagnostics which can transform care. The Collaborative’s stated ambition “is to help make the UK one of the most pro-innovation health systems in the world.”
While partnerships in specialised care have already borne fruit, Pritchard and Stewart did emphasise the importance of taking the learnings from these projects to improve care across primary community services.
Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency
Finally, against the backdrop of looming budget cuts and an ever-worsening fiscal situation within the UK, Pritchard banged the drum for how efficient the NHS had become in recent years. “Our job is to make sure we are spending every pound of public money as well as we possibly can,” she said, noting that two pence of every pound spent in England goes on health service management compared to four pence in Germany and six pence in France.
Also noting that the UK has achieved GBP 1.2 billion in savings over the past three years through measures such as biosimilar switching, she concluded by restating the NHS’s mission to get the best deals for patients that improve healthcare outcomes while representing value for their taxes.