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Innovative Medicine and Health Care Technology

Volume 588: debated on Tuesday 25 November 2014

8. What steps his Department is taking to accelerate access to innovative medicine and health care technology in the NHS. (906226)

Accelerating access for patients to innovative medicines and health care technology is central to my mission as the UK’s first Minister for life sciences. Breakthroughs in genetics and the use of data are unlocking a new era of precision medicines, earlier diagnosis and remote monitoring, which can dramatically improve patient outcomes, and the efficiency of our health service. That is why I announced last week a major review of the role of the regulators, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, in accelerating innovation in the NHS.

I know that the Secretary of State has already visited Airedale general hospital to see its telemedicine service. Earlier this month, I visited Marsden Grange care home in Nelson to look at the service from a patient’s perspective. The service is reducing pressure on the ambulance service, local GPs, A and E departments, and, crucially, improving patients’ experiences. How can we ensure that telemedicine is much more widely used?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As with Airedale, the Marsden Grange care home initiative shows that we can improve patients’ outcomes, deliver more health for the same amount of money and make our system much more efficient. That is why we so strongly support telemedicine, why NHS England has undertaken a rapid review of the 3 million lives programme and why, last week, we launched our review to accelerate the adoption of innovative med-tech and e-health technologies into the NHS.

What is the good of innovation if we do not use it? For the 1 million people who suffer from atrial fibrillation, the three new NICE-approved drugs are a life saver; they make life worth living. But only about 6.5% to 7% of people have been prescribed the new drugs, as they are being blocked by clinical commissioning groups and GPs. What will the Minister do about that?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter. We have all seen it coming in recent years. Extraordinary advances in science are developing a huge range of new products, which our system is having to adjust to cope with, and that is precisely why I launched the review last week with NICE and the MHRA. We must look at these transformational technologies that bring new opportunities to our services and at how we can design a system that is better able to target innovations to the patients who need them.

18. Dementia is an abhorrent disease that affects thousands of people across the UK, and a significant number in my constituency of Fylde. With that in mind, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that dementia sufferers have access not only to the most innovative medicine but to the most advanced early diagnosis? (906237)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Dementia is one of those diseases where the loved ones and the carers of patients often suffer every bit as much as the patients. That is why, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, we have launched the G8 dementia summit to bring together the world to tackle the disease. We have launched a dementia strategy. Diagnosis rates in Britain have gone from 42% to 55% in two years. We have launched a new dementia service and doubled research spending. We will have 250,000 staff trained by next March, and, from April, we will be investing £3.8 billion into the Better Care fund. It is an important disease that deserves our priority.

The Ear Foundation recently published a report that estimates that the real cost of adult hearing loss is at least £30 billion a year. I hope that the Minister has read it. What is he doing to ensure that adults who could benefit from improved hearing technologies, including cochlear implants, do so, and when does he plan to publish the action plan on hearing loss that has long been promised?

I am not aware of the veracity of the £30 billion figure, but I will happily look at it, and I happily undertake to look at the progress of the report and the work that the hon. Lady raised.

20. It is a well-established fact that type 1 diabetics who have insulin pumps are much more able to control their condition than those who do not, yet the take-up of insulin pumps in the UK compared with Europe and America is pitiful. What is the Department doing to increase the commissioning of insulin pumps? In the long run, the costs go down with better control. (906239)

My hon. Friend raises a important example of an innovation that, despite costing a little extra at the beginning, saves substantially downstream. One of the challenges in our national health service is tackling a series of ways in which the system is not well geared to incentivising such innovations. NHS England recently set out its five-year forward view, which has, for the first time, a strong commitment to tackling such issues, and we are working with it to see what we can do to remove barriers and promote incentives for earlier adoption.

What steps are being taken to ensure that emerging treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy that receive conditional approval are available through the early access to medicines scheme as early as possible?

I was delighted, when we launched the early access to medicines scheme earlier this year, to see the very strong support that we got from the Duchenne dystrophy group. Dystrophy is one of those terrible diseases that desperately need the fast-tracking of new medicines. As I said, last week we launched a major review of our landscape for the earlier adoption of innovative medicines in the NHS, so that patients in the most severe clinical need can take part in cutting-edge research and we get drugs to patients more quickly.