The government has now published long-awaited findings of the independent accelerated access review (AAR), which strives to ensure that patients can benefit from innovative new diagnostic tools, drugs, digital healthcare and medical technologies much more quickly.
The AAR was commissioned by the government in the hope of making the UK "the fastest place in the world for the design, development and widespread adoption of medical innovations and stimulate new investment, jobs and economic growth to support the NHS".
The Review, developed in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, makes 18 recommendations that could propel a step change in access and uptake of innovation in the country.
For one, it proposes the creation of a new Accelerated Access Partnership to help quicken and simplify the process for getting the most promising new treatments and diagnostics safely from preclinical development to patients.
Through the new Partnership, which should span NHS England, NHS Improvement, NICE and the MHRA, innovators would have access to "joined-up help with clinical development, regulation, and assessment of cost effectiveness".
This could potentially bring forward patient access to drugs by up to four years if a scientific opinion from the Early Access to Medicines Scheme is used (saving 12-18 months) and there is no delay at the NICE appraisal stage (which takes around two years) or during the process for NHS commissioning and adoption (which takes two years or more).
The Review also suggests that a new Strategic Commercial Unit be established within NHS England to facilitate commercial dialogue to create flexible arrangements with innovators working on new products, the idea being to secure faster access to the NHS market and better value for the taxpayer at the same time.
Elsewhere, recommendations cover: improved horizon scanning for innovative new products, and a systematic approach to prioritising the best innovations coming down the pipeline; better data on the impact of technologies on patient outcomes and uptake; local support for the spread of innovation, through Academic Health Science Networks; and stronger incentives for local NHS organisations to use and spread the benefits of innovation.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said the Review "is a first step towards building the right environment and infrastructure within the NHS".
"It sets out an achievable strategy for getting the most promising drugs, devices, digital products and diagnostics to patients quickly, and transforming lives," and "its success will depend on the close involvement of all stakeholders, and will need dedicated funding from the Government to support implementation," he noted.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said it believes the Review is "a significant first step in addressing poor patient access to new medicines in the UK and reflects the government's manifesto commitment to increase the use of innovative new medicines for NHS patients".
"The Accelerated Access Review is an important foundation for building a Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and opens the door to greater collaboration between innovators, patients and the NHS to make the UK a world leader in researching, developing and using new treatments and technologies," commented chief executive Mike Thompson.
"If we work together to deliver the necessary step-change in getting innovative medicines to British patients we then could see growth in research and development, manufacturing and employment in a post Brexit UK. Turning this into reality now relies on a positive government response to the Review, and a clear implementation plan."
Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association said: "We welcome the Review's recommendation for a fully funded early access to medicines scheme for small and scaling companies, it's a key step in making the UK a great location to clinically develop highly innovative therapies at pace."
The government said it will now consider the proposals "and respond more fully in due course, mindful of the need to ensure affordability".