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Life sciences minister: Go digital for NHS savings

Greater use of health technology could free funds for drug spending, says George Freeman

UK life sciences minister George Freeman

The NHS and pharma should look to digital technology to help the health service make the billions in savings needed over the coming years, according to UK life sciences minister George Freeman MP.

Speaking exclusively to PMLiVE shortly before the government's digital health strategy was released, Freeman (pictured above) said that rather than investing large sums of money into the NHS each year, it is “more important” to utilise “the increasing pace of digitalisation and precision medicine” to help drive down costs.

Freeman, who spent years working in the pharma sector before becoming an MP, also backed health secretary Jeremy Hunt's vision for both a paperless NHS, and one that uses new telehealth and telemedicine to reduce the strain on the NHS budget and even allow the government to pay for more drugs.

“You need only look to the oft cited example of Airedale in North Yorkshire where 24/7 home iPad and webcam telehealth for respiratory and cardiac patients have dramatic impacts on the reduction on GP appointments, and hospital admissions, whilst being hugely influential on clinical outcomes and saved substantial funds,” Freeman said.

“We only have to roll this out at scale across the system and we can start to deliver really significant efficiency gains which we can then re-invest in paying for more medicines.”

The next general election in the UK is in May next year, meaning Freeman may have a short run as the country's first ever life sciences minister, but he said that should his Conservative Party gain power once again, he would continue to push throughout the next Parliament for a 21st century medicines landscape.

“This role as a minister for life sciences is every bit as much about data; diagnostics; devices; to drive efficiency in our health system, all so that we can generate the revenues to help us afford the modern precision medicine that we need.”

Mind the funding gap

His comments come as new reports from healthcare think-tank the King's Fund and NHS England have come out saying that the NHS will face a £30bn funding gap by 2020.

The current coalition government, led by the Conservatives, have only given the NHS a 0.1% real terms increase each year since it came to power in May 2010, and have said it would commit the same level for the next Parliament, should it win the General Election.

But this will not be enough to plug the £30bn gap, and Freeman said he understands the problem. “No-one is suggesting that our healthcare expenditure will do anything but go up,” he says.

“But then we've got an opportunity to look at how we spend that budget to make sure that Britain is the best place to develop innovative new medicines.”

He says that he “doesn't recognise” the £30bn funding gap, but says what this actually equates to is the need for a 3% productivity gain reduces that £30bn figure to £4bn.

“Can we achieve 3% productivity gains in a £120bn healthcare budget? The answer is of course 'yes', and I think given the size of the healthcare market, and the potential for modernising the way we deliver and the way we diagnose and the way we treat, it can be done.

“There are numerous examples where innovation strips out a huge amount of waste – so, for example, just moving paper prescriptions to digital prescriptions in the pharmacy sector, and in the way we make GP appointments.

“There are huge efficiencies from innovation, but what we need to look at is how we incentivise people in the system to adopt those innovations.”

The full and in-depth interview with George Freeman will be published in December's PME. Not a subscriber to either the print or digital editions? Register for your copy here.

Article by
Ben Adams

17th November 2014

From: Healthcare

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