A new ‘Innovative Medical Devices Fund’ is needed to ensure the government’s £36bn commitment to ‘innovation and new technology’ is spent wisely, says Barbara Harpham.
Why is there no scheme to ensure long-term investment in medical technology for the NHS? One exists for pharmaceuticals, the Innovative Medicines Fund, which last week saw an extra £340m in funding for fast tracking the most promising treatments to patients.
Fresh off the back of gathering case studies of medical devices – from minimally invasive prostate surgery to robotic-assisted hip replacement – which helped speed up surgical times, increase diagnostic capacity and perform safer procedures during the pandemic, the Medical Technology Group could only look on with envy.
Here was a policy surely following through on the government’s £36bn commitment to “innovation and new technology” - cutting of red tape, prioritising of patient need, backing of innovation with ring fenced funding.
Quite simply, there is no equivalent to the IMF for new medical technologies on the NHS. Combined with the uncertainty over new integrated care system procurement strategies and renewed pressure on efficiency savings - MedTech risks entering “a dark age” of procurement and funding in the health service, at precisely the time it is being talked up by both the government and NHS innovation leads as a solution to the backlog and an enabler of the integrated care model.
What sort of funding scheme for MedTech do we want? It might help to explain by taking a look at the current flaws with the MedTech Funding Mandate – the primary mechanism for introducing innovative technology into the health service.
The MedTech Funding Mandate, which celebrated its first birthday in April, is a step in the right direction, but criteria for a return on investment within three years and an assessment of effectiveness that is not required for pharmaceutical products dramatically limits inclusion.
Moreover, the mandate doesn’t really provide any additional funding for medical technology. Essentially, all the mandate does is pick just 11 technologies from a wide field and place them on a similar footing to that of all pharmaceutical products that have been through assessment by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
The process for inclusion on the funding mandate is also unclear, as it is largely driven internally by NICE with no formal application process in place.
An “Innovative Medical Devices Fund” would provide ring-fenced funding and enable providers to apply for the funding of medical technologies on a similar level of assessment to that of pharmaceuticals.
In theory, this would provide new clinician-led ICS boards with a wider pool of innovative technologies to choose from when dealing with bottlenecks in diagnostics, surgery and rehabilitation.
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Date: 22 June