On Tuesday, Neale Hanvey MP’s adjournment debate on the “UK Diagnostics Industry and COVID-19 Recovery” was held in the aftermath of discussions concerning the Queen’s Speech. Mr Hanvey has long been a strong supporter of our industry and we thank him for bringing this important debate to the attention of the House.
BIVDA would also like to thank members who responded to our call for evidence last week as we were able to supply Mr Hanvey with vital insider information about how the UK diagnostics industry responded to the pandemic and companies’ interactions with Government, which informed his speech.
Mr Hanvey began by highlighting the importance of the diagnostics sector to this country before criticising the Government’s handling of the industry during the pandemic. He noted that broken Government commitments had left industry with a rather bitter taste in their mouths, with “many UK companies saying they would not respond to the UK Government if a similar crisis arose”, as revealed by a source.
The failure of Operation Moonshot combined with the unreliability of foreign lateral flow tests – which the public were told were almost infallibly effective – exacerbated the problem, Mr Hanvey stated.
The issue of some foreign tests being exempted from CTDA regulations while also benefitting from multi-billion pound Government contracts at the expense of domestic companies was also felt to be particularly egregious.
On this topic, Mr Hanvey referenced the joint statement from both BIVDA and ABHI (which can be read here) which called on the Government to remove the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the Coronavirus Test Device Approvals process.
Feeback from industry regarding the Government procurement process was similarly scathing, with Mr Hanvey’s sources claiming, “procurement process suffers from a lack of progress, transparency and poor communication”. He questioned why the Government was putting its domestic diagnostics industry at a disadvantage and suggested they rectified the situation forthwith.
Furthermore, Mr Hanvey accused the Government of failing to provide adequate funding for charitable biomedical research to cover the fall in donations due to the pandemic. Despite great enthusiasm in the House, it never materialised, even though there was demonstrable evidence that not only does research investment improve health outcomes but also saves money long-term.
The UK, he claimed, was at risk of losing some of its most innovative companies to other markets, such as the US, if the Government continued to not adequately support its domestic diagnostic industry. At least two UK companies had disclosed that to him.
It was also clear to industry that, while other countries were formulating long-term pandemic preparedness plans, the UK Government is failing on this front, too. Continued testing and surveillance were both key planks in pandemic preparedness strategy going forward, he suggested.
Mr Hanvey ended his speech by asserting that industry is already far ahead of Government in pandemic-proofing the future through the development of recommendations, while the Government needs to do much more to protect against future pandemics and support the UK diagnostics industry.
The industry, he said, needed investment not only to safeguard the health of the population, but also to exploit the enormous potential of the industry in order to break into international markets through the development of innovative technologies.
Science, Research and Innovation Minister George Freeman rose to respond. As someone who spent 15 years working in the sector he acknowledged the immense importance of the industry and how it is often undervalued. The pandemic, however, underlined the vital significance of diagnostics in health.
He pledged, through the update to the life sciences industrial strategy last year, to provide a more integrated approach to care, including bringing diagnosis, treatment and prevention more closely together – which will put the diagnostics industry at the heart of the Government’s eight disease missions.
He also claimed the Government was investing heavily in research, demonstrated by £8 billion of research funding in the Life Sciences Vision and greater investment in mRNA technologies. Moreover, he promised industry that he would do everything in his power to ensure the UK is an “an earlier adopter, an earlier tester and the best place in the world for it to come to test and diagnose its new treatments”.
Mr Freeman again stressed the immense and critical work of the diagnostic industry during the pandemic – asking that his commendation be put on record – and stated his belief that diagnostic infrastructure should be maintained in case of future health crises.
Mr Freeman finished by heralding the strength of UK genomics, hailing that the UK was a “leader in the global networks for genomic sequencing because of… genomics investment”. He sought, finally, reassure assembled members and industry that lessons have been learned from the pandemic and pledged to put the UK diagnostics industry at the heart of the Life Sciences Vision.