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NHS review promises more patient-focused and innovative healthcare

More patient choice, easily accessible health centres, tackling hospital infections and increasing drug innovation are the key themes of Lord Ara Darzi's interim review of the NHS

More patient choice, easily accessible health centres, tackling hospital infections and increasing drug innovation were the key themes of Lord Ara Darzi's interim review of the NHS.

Darzi aims to develop a universally world-class NHS delivering effective, higher quality services that are safe, personalised to individual needs, and equally available to all.

"This is not about imposing more change from the centre. Effective change needs to be led locally, driven by clinicians and others working in partnership across the service," said Darzi of the review.

The importance of innovation is highlighted in the report, and Darzi is creating a Health Innovation Council (HIC), together with a fund of up to GBP 100m to help the NHS develop and deploy hi-tech healthcare such as medical devices and diagnostics. The HIC will hold the Department of Health (DoH) and the NHS to account for taking up innovation and helping overcome barriers for doing so.

The Wellcome Trust and the DoH will jointly fund the HIC.

Innovation key to NHS development
Key innovations in the NHS have already led to the development of life saving medicines such as new cancer drugs and devices, such as stents (metal devices placed inside an artery to keep it open).

"I want to see the UK become a world-leader in pharmaceutical and medical technology research and development, so NHS patients have access to the best innovative treatments and services. The new HIC will provide leadership and advocacy with key decision-makers in the NHS on the benefits to patients, the NHS and the country, of adopting cost-effective new technologies and models of care,î explained Darzi.

The report acknowledges "since the creation of the NHS, innovations in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and clinical trials have improved the quality of patients' lives. But the NHS does not always make the best use of innovation".

It continues: "The NHS needs to move away from cost containment and seek to harness innovation."

Patients are to have better access to GPs at weekends and in the evenings, 100 new GP practices are to open in areas with the worst provision and 150 new health centres to open seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.

Infection prevention vital
Preventing infections is also a high priority. There is to be MRSA screening for all elective and emergency admissions, and a new health and adult social care regulator will be created with tough powers, backed by fines, to inspect, investigate and intervene where hospitals are failing to meet hygiene and infection control standards.

Darzi says the NHS is two-thirds of the way through its reform programme set out in 2000 and 2002, and the majority opinion is that the current set of reforms should be seen through to its conclusion.

The interim report has been met with mixed reactions, with some accusing the Government of rushing out the report in order to win favour with the public before a General Election.

Deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) GPs Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, welcomed the report, but warned: "It is important to remember that one size does not fit all when you are talking about healthcare. There needs to be local implementation of policies to suit local health needs. We are concerned that polyclinics could threaten patient care because they may centralise healthcare and take patients away from the personal service they receive from their family doctors. There are many practical and resource issues to be resolved and the BMA is anxious that we start productive discussions as soon as possible."

Darzi's final report is due in 2008 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the NHS.

30th September 2008

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