The government yesterday kicked off a novel scheme it hopes will speed up the creation of new products and technologies to help patients with debilitating conditions such as incontinence or renal failure.

The pilot Healthcare Technology Co-operative (HTC) programme is designed to bring together patients and carers, academics, clinicians, nurses and other healthcare providers and the industry to breathe new life into the development of products to benefit patients with such conditions.

"It's vital that new products are designed with patients' needs in mind,” said health minister Dawn Primarolo, and “these new collaborations between the NHS, academia, industry, patients and carers hold tremendous promise to improve patient care in these key clinical areas".

The pilot HTC schemes will be based at Barts and the London NHS Trust and possibly Sheffield NHS Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, and both centres will receive annual financial backing of £275,000 for the first two years, with more cash in the pipeline if they prove to be a success.

Meeting unmet need
The funding – put up by The National Institute for Health Research and the Technology Strategy Board (with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council) - is designed to help set up an NHS infrastructure that will “provide a pull-through mechanism for the development of much-needed technological solutions to problems…in areas that have not traditionally attracted much attention or investment”, the DH explained, and added that it expects specific projects to develop product concepts to emerge over the next couple of years.

John Wilkinson, Director General of the Association of British Healthcare Industries, believes the HTC will allow “clinicians, scientists and business people to work together on projects focusing on unmet clinical needs in a way that has proven difficult to orchestrate,” and he stressed that “the sooner these elements learn to work with each other, the more likely that widely available solutions will be brought to market.”