The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, yesterday set out an ambitious vision for the NHS as it approaches its landmark 70th anniversary – calling on health and care leaders to unleash the game-changing potential of innovation for both patients and taxpayers.
Speaking at the Expo conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens unveiled new plans to free up funds for the latest world class treatments by slashing hundreds of millions from the nations drugs bill and announce that new and cutting edge treatments will be routinely available for the first time.
Mr Stevens revealed that investment in new oral treatments that can cure Hepatitis C more quickly and with fewer side effects has already led to a 10% reduction in the number of deaths and an unprecedented reduction in liver transplants for Hepatitis C of around 50%.
This is the latest in a series of innovative drug deals which has been made possible by NHS England working closely with industry to bring prices down, expand treatment options and make new treatments available rapidly – in one case within just four weeks of a treatment receiving its marketing authorisation.
Health and care leaders also heard how new rules on the use of biosimilar medicines – cheaper but equally clinically effective to original ‘biological’ treatments – will give doctors a choice of new treatments for thousands of patients with serious and painful conditions, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but at a significantly reduced cost.
Currently, six of the top 10 drugs in the UK by cost are biological medicines - the most complex and therefore expensive used in the NHS. The plans to accelerate and widen the uptake of biosimilars will save hundreds of millions of pounds from the nation’s medicine bill, estimated to be up to £300m a year by 2021.
Simon Stevens said: “The NHS has a proud history of innovation. As our 70th anniversary approaches, it is important that we do not just celebrate these often unsung achievements but also unleash the full potential of innovation in treatment and commissioning to ensure we deliver high quality healthcare for future generations.”
Further detail on the Hep C announcement is in a new report that shines a light on specialised services, those which support people with a range of rare and complex conditions will also be published. It highlights recent standout investments across blood and infection, cancer, mental health, internal medicine, trauma and woman and children and how these will continue to be rolled out over the coming years.
One of those treatments to benefit from £700,000 of new investment is a medical technique called auditory brainstem implants, which can help restore the sensation of hearing to some children born with profound deafness. The operation is performed by Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and involves inserting a device directly against the brainstem, bypassing the cochlea and auditory nerve and could help around nine children a year.
Another innovative procedures outlined is a unique life-changing procedure known as osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP) or ‘tooth in-eye’ surgery, which restores vision to blind patients by using part of the patient’s own tooth root to support an optical cylinder. The procedure takes place in several stages and is performed on blind patients with damaged corneas, for whom traditional transplants are not suitable. One patient who had the procedure was blind for twelve years before the surgery but after the bandages came off, he immediately saw faces and pictures on the hospital ward.
Mr Stevens also signalled NHS England’s intent to continue to develop the successful Test Bed Programme - including the RAIDPlus Integrated Mental Health Urgent Care Test Bed, supported by WMAHSN - as the NHS goes into its 70th year. Seven sites have been working with 40 innovators, 51 digital technology products, eight evaluation teams and five voluntary sector organisations to understand which products and processes can save and transform lives, at the same or lower cost than current practice.