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Health Secretary discusses life sciences and innovation at Spectator Health Summit

By December 2, 2022No Comments

On Monday, the Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, delivered a speech at The Spectator Health Summit. Though wide-ranging, much of his speech was focused on innovation and life sciences and how they can be harnessed to save lives and save money for the NHS.

He began by speaking of the need to be prudent with the extra money now allocated to the health service to maximise impact. This extra money was evidence that the Government was committed to improving the NHS for patients and an indication that health affected the wider state of the economy, he stated.

Getting an earlier cancer diagnosis or prescribing the correct antibiotic the first time, for example, allows for quicker, more efficient treatment which both improves patient outcomes as well as reduce costs.

Mr Barclay declared that achieving this level of ‘value for money’ would be best achieved by moving to a more personalised care model. He namechecked home testing, which everyone became accustomed to during the pandemic. Mirroring this model with other health challenges would produce faster diagnoses, even catching diseases in patients not exhibiting symptoms, and provide access to earlier treatment.

Mr Barclay then moved on to the subject of innovation. He believes the NHS is far too risk averse when adopting innovative solutions, and this must be recalibrated away from the status quo. There are always risks, and they must be assessed appropriately, however the rewards can be significant.

Pleasingly, Mr Barclay acknowledged that the expansion of the life sciences was paramount in solving health challenges we face both now and in the future. These challenges are exacerbated by an increasingly ageing population. This expansion of the life sciences would offer greater revolutionary technology and the better use of data in health.

In support of this, the Health Secretary announced an expansion of the missions outlined in last year’s Life Sciences Vision. He committed an extra £113 million for four new health missions pertaining to: cancer, mental health, obesity and addiction.

Another facet of the life sciences noted by Mr Barclay was genomics. It is his belief that Genomics England’s work can be applied more directly to assist with the immediate challenges facing the NHS. Life science research can benefit us now, not just down the line.

Using tech and big data are two other areas that the Health Secretary believes can have a transformative impact. Data, consented to by patients with wearables and devices connected to the internet of things, can be utilised for analysis in the treatment, prevention and diagnosis of disease. “Generate. Store. Analyse” was the mantra employed by Mr Barclay.

A major example of this in action is the Our Future Health programme which was launched last month, with the analysis of 5 million people’s health expected to yield valuable data to uncover learnings.

The programme is also an excellent example of both private and public coming together. £80 million has been invested by Government with an extra £160 million contributed by life science companies.

While achieving better health outcomes for patients for their own sake is evidently good, Mr Barclay also examined the economics of a healthy working population. In Great Britain, he said, the total cost to our economy of preventable or treatable ill health among the working age population is somewhere between £112 and 153 billion – equivalent to up to 5 to 7% of GDP. Investing in health is not throwing money into a black hole; it can reap immense economic benefits.

Natalie Creaney