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The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Life Sciences: The key to a 21st Century NHS

20th April 2015

As we approach polling day, I believe the choice we are facing on the future of the NHS is becoming ever more clear. The choice is simple: between the focus of Jeremy Hunt and the Conservative Health team on supporting NHS leaders to improve the culture of care and transparency, promote patient empowerment and accelerate access to new treatments by unlocking the power of the NHS as a pioneer of medical innovation, and the depressing sight of Andy Burnham determined to ‘weaponise’ the NHS for partisan advantage.

David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have a vision for 21stC healthcare and the NHS, embracing the digital technologies that are transforming healthcare around the world. In creating the world’s first Minister for Life Sciences, we have put this agenda at the heart of Government. And it is the Conservatives who are going into the coming General Election with the vision, track record and economic credibility to make this vision a reality for patients.

The digital revolution is starting to transform healthcare: digital diagnostics, cell therapy, genomics and stratified medicines are fundamentally changing the medical landscape.  These advances have real potential to transform prevention and treatment, saving lives. They also provide us with an opportunity to begin driving efficiencies across the system.

That means being innovative in making sure patients get access to the latest life-saving drugs. That’s why I have pioneered our Accelerated Access to Innovative Medicines and Medical Technology Review. The Review will consider how our healthcare and regulatory systems can best respond and adapt to this new landscape of innovation.

Secondly, we must make the most of transformative technologies like genomics. That’s why I was so proud to launch with the Prime Minister the Genomics England project to sequence a 100,000 genomes as well as their ground breaking partnership with Illumina, confirming Britain’s position as a world leader in the field of genetic medicine. This project will help us map genomes on an unprecedented scale and bring better treatments to people with cancers and rare diseases for generations to come.

Thirdly, we also need to invest in our research infrastructure and build private/public partnerships for 21stC research. My goal as the first ever Minister in charge of NHS innovation and technology has been to make the UK the best place in the world for 21stC healthcare innovation. That’s why we have ringfenced the £1bn PA budget for NHS Research and the MRC. And pulled in an additional £3.5bn of inward investment into our medical research sector.

This Conservative team understands that health and prosperity go hand in hand in the 21stC: you can’t have a strong NHS without a strong economy. And a strong NHS is key to underpinning a competitive modern economy.

The key question facing our NHS over the next five years is how do we continue this work? With the demands of an ageing population, there is one fundamental truth: you can’t have a modern, innovative NHS able to deal with rising demand without a vibrant economy to fund it, and a vision for the NHS as part of a modern economy.

That’s why I’m so proud that, because of the difficult decisions we have taken on the economy, we have been able to invest £12.9bn in our NHS and in nearly 9,500 more doctors, over 6,900 more nurses and more than 2,100 more midwives over the course of this Parliament, as well as committing to increasing health spending in real terms by a minimum of £8 billion in the next Parliament.and pledging to improve GP access so everyone will be able to see a GP seven days a week by 2020.

Sadly, while the Conservatives look forward, Labour wishes to turn the clock back, even now abandoning the progressive reforms they introduced in government. There has been barely a word about innovation from the Shadow Health Team over the last five years, and no concept of how this digital revolution can utterly transform the way healthcare is delivered.

While we Conservatives are investing in unlocking new stratified cancer drugs, digital health apps and a new age of personalised medicine, Labour are stuck in a “treasury-tag” world – the NHS as a museum to be referenced in time for a leadership campaign; a vehicle for the Old Labour politics of its leaders rather than for 21st century medicine for each patient.

By making sure the UK and the NHS is at the forefront of medical innovation through faster access to the latest drugs, investing in medical infrastructure and making the UK a world-leader in genomics, we are showing a vision for the NHS for the next fifty years.

The NHS is the jewel in the UK public services crown. It is the job of us all to ensure it can play as big a role in the 21stC as it did in the 20th.

George Freeman, Minister for Life and Health Sciences

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