The UK is already lagging way behind other European countries in the uptake of innovative medical technologies and leading experts warn that any cuts to NHS technology budgets will come at a higher price in the long term.

According to the Medical Technology Group, tightening the technology purse strings risks damaging the quality of life of thousands of patients with serious, long-term illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

“Like all public services the NHS is under pressure to cut costs, but slashing budgets is counterproductive as modern technologies help thousands of people with long-term conditions stay in work or education and out of hospital,” said Barbara Harpham, MTG Chairman and Director of Heart Research UK, and stressed that “with an ageing population and increasing demands on health services we cannot afford a ‘slow-tech’ NHS”.

The UK is falling behind other countries in terms of providing patients with access to the latest technologies. For example, three times more implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) – which cut the risk of cardiac deaths by 50% - were implanted in Germany than in the UK, while less than 4% of Type I diabetics have access to an insulin pump over here compared to 35% in the US, despite both these technologies having been won the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s stamp of approval, the Group claims.

To address the issue, the MTG has launched a 12-point action plan Medical Technology – Can We Afford To Miss Out? which, it hopes, will encourage the better uptake of medical technologies throughout the health service. For one, it recommends that patients are given the legal right to access any technologies approved by the cost regulator, and it also suggests providing patients with more information on which providers offer the latest devices.

Political support
Conservative Shadow Health Minister Stephen O’Brien MP has voiced his support for the report, calling for a health service “where procurement delivers the best possible patient and financial outcomes, rather than focusing on short term targets, and where specialist equipment is not treated as just a commodity, but as a value for money use of public money.”

Backing also came from Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb MP, who said: “Until now, the NHS has been slow to recognise the value of technology. This has to change if we are to maximise the effective use of resources for the benefit of patients”.