UK government hinders uptake of vital medical technologies
3 September 2005
Only a few months after a UK parliamentary report highlighted the need to
make better use of medical technologies to improve healthcare, the
government is scrapping the committee that assess these technologies for use
in the National Health Service.
Cuts to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) will mean
life-saving devices and equipment will be held back for patients in England
and Wales, the Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI) has
The decision to scrap one of the three NICE committees that assess new
medical technologies will lead to a massive slowdown in new innovations
reaching patients. NICE attributes this decision to £3.5 million cuts in
However, the ABHI argues that with the current historic investment in
health it makes no sense to cut the gateway to more effective and cost
efficient technologies and devices. The ABHI also rejects the Government's
argument that the decision can be justified by a lack of new technologies
seeking referral to NICE for assessment.
The UK government has greatly increased the budget for the adoption of
IT, especially in England, through the National Programme for Information
Technology (NPfIT). But the UK remains one of the slowest adopters of new
medical technologies in the developed world, investing less than the
European average in the newest innovative devices — as a recent Health
Select Committee report highlighted (1), and as is shown
below (data from same report).
Dr Felicity Harvey, Head of Medicines, Pharmacy and Industry Group,
Department of Health, told the House of Commons Health Select Committee:
"The NHS has not been good at getting new technology in. In its memorandum
the Department pointed out that NICE has made a contribution to improving
the NHS’s understanding of the clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of
new medical technologies, but recognised that “more needs to be done to
improve implementation of NICE guidance, a point that we have identified,
and made recommendations about, in several of our previous inquiries."
The government and industry have sought to tackle the problems of uptake
of technologies through the Healthcare Industries Task Force (HITF). HITF
initiatives aim to speed up development and adoption of new medical
technologies within the NHS. The ABHI expressed concern that limiting NICE's
assessment ability will potentially limit the impact of HITF and therefore
hurt patient care and long-term savings to the NHS.
A report published by HITF in 2004 (2) highlighted the
benefits and potential savings from medical devices with the example of a
device produced by a small British company to analyse the ECG of heart
- reduction in referrals from primary care of 60%
- 100% increase in identification of patients at high risk
- 80% reduction in the cost of diagnosis per patient
- investing approximately £30 million could result in savings of £72
- more effective diagnosis at primary care
- significant improvements in patient care and patient quality of life
- a reduction in the demand for scarce cardiac resources
- shorter waiting times as a result of reducing unnecessary referrals.
John Wilkinson, Director General of the ABHI said: "It clearly makes no
sense to invest heavily in health but at the same time to massively cut
investment in making sure the most effective and cost efficient treatments
are used. It is certainly not the case that there is a lack of potentially
life saving devices and systems that need evaluation."
"We therefore welcome NICE's acknowledgement that cutting its capacity
will hamper patient access to new medical innovations in England. We would
be more than happy to sit down with them and the Government to address this
1. House of Commons Health Committee.
of New Medical Technologies within the NHS (233K PDF). 2005.
2. Healthcare Industries Task Force.
Better health through
partnership: a programme for action (534K PDF). 2004.