• Communications

    Posted in category News Release by Communications on 30/04/2013

    Speech by Earl Howe at the ABPI's Annual Conference 2013 (abridged version)

Thank you for your introduction Stephen. I am delighted that you have given me this opportunity to speak again, at this important occasion.


I begin with what must be talked about, as opposed to not talked about. The life sciences industry in this country remains at the forefront of the Government’s priorities. Over the last 12 months, I have had a number of opportunities to meet with many of you here in this room and your colleagues from across the globe. UK trade and investment led a very successful life science global business summit during the Olympics with many international leaders from industry attending alongside ministerial colleagues.

I and a number of fellow ministers have also been to visit a number of companies based overseas in Japan, Switzerland and the USA, to foster and maintain the relationships the Government has with industry partners. I think we all greatly appreciated the opportunity to discuss with companies, the key initiatives that are now in train to enhance the UK life sciences’ environment – some of which can most definitely be mentioned, including the 'Plan for growth', the 'Life sciences strategy' and 'Innovation health and wealth'. And, of course, it was also important for me and my colleagues to listen to any concerns from companies about how they could engage with the new structures within the NHS and about the evolving roles of NICE and NHS England.

Now, naturally, a major topic for many of my meetings with industry has been the pricing of branded medicines in the UK and the status of the current discussions on value-based pricing.

 Let me reassure you about our objectives here. Our priority remains, to give NHS patients better access to effective and cost effective innovative medicines. That is the reason why we are committed to move to a system of value-based pricing for new branded medicines from January 2014, following the end of the current PPRS.

Our preference is to agree the new arrangements for medicines pricing through negotiation, as has been the case for the PPRS, and negotiations are currently underway. Because of that, I agree with Stephen that this is a subject that probably shouldn’t be mentioned.  All I would say now is that the end point is bound to involve an element of give and take. 

And in that spirit, we might all do well to remind ourselves of the immortal words of Mr Mick Jagger:

You can’t always get what you want

But of course that doesn’t mean that you will never get any satisfaction.


I know that for many of you, the uptake of innovative technologies by our healthcare system is of key importance; and the unique integrated nature of the NHS means we have achieved a great deal. Since the NHS was established in 1948, innovation has brought incalculable benefits for patients. Treatments have been improved, as indeed has health policy. Inequalities in healthcare have been dramatically reduced. Productivity has been increased. 

But; whilst the NHS is recognised as a world leader at invention, the spread of those inventions within the NHS has often been too slow, and sometimes even the best of them fail to achieve widespread use.

It still takes an estimated average of 17 years for new scientific discoveries to enter day-to-day clinical practice; and even then, only 14% of discoveries progress to that point.

This is not acceptable. Patients have the right to expect better health, better care and better value from their NHS. 

We need to make sure that NHS staff can get the best, transformative, most innovative ideas, products and clinical practice spread at pace and scale so that every patient benefits.  That cannot happen without having people with innovative minds working with the best resources in a creative and supportive environment.

And it cannot happen without harnessing the powerful collaboration of the NHS working side by side in partnership with industry. We already work well together, but the partnership can be even stronger in the future. And it must be, if we are to deliver a health service that is strong and secure for future generations. Innovation will be the key to unlocking that future.

The importance of innovation

Some people 'out there' may perhaps question the wisdom of investing in innovation, given the economic situation in which we find ourselves. However, to them I say – this is precisely the time when innovation becomes most valuable.

Demands on the health and social care system continue to rise as society’s demographics change and as expectations from the public continues to increase. This upward graph is made steeper by the NHS’s own increasing capability, fuelled by advances in knowledge, science and technology and the development of new pharmaceutical treatments, diagnostics and devices.

For now and the foreseeable future we must meet these demands from within our current real terms funding, while at the same time improving quality. So accelerated change is not so much a goal as an absolute necessity.

This means that doing more of what we have always done is no longer an option. We need to do things differently. We need to radically transform the way we deliver services. Innovation is the way, the only way we can meet these demands.

The NHS has got to develop more integrated, effective and cost-effective ways of delivering care.

Our ambition

The 'Plan for growth' committed the Government to over 250 measures identified from the Growth Review. Critically, for many of us here, it identified life sciences as a key growth sector for the UK and set out a number of initiatives for life sciences, many of which were to be achieved within the short to medium term.

Just to give some indication of progress we’ve made, the 'Strategy for UK Life Sciences one year on' report showed that the UK has generated more than £1bn in industry and private sector investment within 12 months.

At the same time, the Prime Minister also announced that the UK will be the first country in the world to introduce high-tech DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases, within the NHS. Up to 100,000 patients over three to five years will have their whole genome sequenced.

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

Research is an essential part of the strategy. The Government’s investment in health research through the Medical Research Council underpins invention, and our investment in applied health research through the NIHR underpins evaluation.

Translation of research is vital for innovation to progress along the pathway.  The Government is investing a record £800 million over five years in a series of NIHR biomedical research centres and units.  These are translating scientific breakthroughs into better treatments for patients.

The problem of spread

The challenge, then, is how to spread this. Spread of innovations in large disaggregated organisations is notoriously difficult. And it is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS.

Creating the conditions for innovation to flourish

Of course, if we are to change this, there need to be effective and efficient ways for innovations to reach the patients that need them. This must be across the NHS. 

That is the difference, I think, between invention and innovation – successful application.

This is why implementing the recommendations in Sir David Nicholson’s report 'Innovation health and wealth' is crucial.   This report is about making sure that patients get the highest quality care – even during times of financial constraints.

'Innovation health and wealth' sets out a delivery agenda for accelerating the spread of innovation across the NHS. It’s a programme designed as an integrated set of measures that together will support the NHS in achieving a systematic and profound change in the way services are delivered.

'Innovation health and wealth' seeks to overcome barriers to innovation that have built up over decades, and aims to deliver long term, sustainable change embedded right at the heart of the NHS. To do that it needs not only to change structures, and process, we need to change culture and behaviour – this takes time.

Systematic delivery mechanism

How do we do that? To spread ideas right across the NHS means working collaboratively with all those who have an interest.

That can happen through Academic Health Science Networks, or AHSNs.

The NHS needs a stronger relationship with the scientific and academic communities and industry to develop solutions to healthcare problems and get existing solutions spread at pace and scale.  AHSNs present a unique opportunity to align clinical research, informatics, innovation, training and education and healthcare delivery. They will improve patient and population outcomes by translating research into practice, developing, and implementing integrated healthcare services.  Our ambition is for every NHS hospital to be part of an AHSN; to harness the NHS as an engine for spreading innovation in a way that we haven’t done before.

I am very encouraged by the enthusiasm with which the AHSN concept had been embraced within the health service. Given the level of change the NHS is experiencing it is testament to the commitment of the NHS and its academic, industry and research partners to the co-creation and co-delivery of 'Innovation health and wealth' that innovation remains at the heart of the way the new NHS seeks to operate. 


Let’s take heart from all of this; but at the same time not rest on our laurels. Good progress is being made at a time of great change in the NHS but much more remains to be done to deliver the improvements we need.  We must not be complacent. We owe it to patients, the public and our stakeholders to achieve the systematic adoption and diffusion of innovation at pace and scale. To make the NHS a true champion of innovation.

This means we must not only enable invention, but also encourage a climate and a culture in which the spread of innovation is recognised and rewarded. In which people believe innovation will improve their lives and their work, and ensure patients receive the highest-quality treatment.

We in Government are committed to a future in which innovation is a core function of the NHS.

And it is this that will help us achieve our aim – to have health outcomes in this country as good as any in the world.

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