Innovation "must become core business for the NHS" - this is the only way the Service will be able to tackle the massive challenges it now faces, chief executive Sir David Nicholson has declared. But, within NHS organisations, will an over-emphasis on saving money rather than adopting proven, innovative and effective new products and ways of working lead to unprecedented opportunities for the NHS, industry and patients being lost?
This is the topic for discussion at the next meeting of the PharmaTimes Directors Club on March 9. Addressing the PDC will be Sir Ian Carruthers OBE, chief executive of NHS South of England and co-author with Sir David Nicholson of the ground-breaking NHS review which commits the Service to innovation in terms of "supporting research and the rapid adoption and diffusion of the best, transformative, most innovative ideas, products, services and clinical practice".
Other distinguished Department of Health officials addressing the PDC will be Dr Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer and Head of Medicines Management, and Clare Howard, National Lead for the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) programme.
PharmaTimes has also invited a panel of industry and patient stakeholders to discuss widespread concerns that cost-containment, rather than the patient, has become the top priority for many medicines management teams within PCTs and Trusts.
What is "medicines management?" There is no widely-accepted definition, but one view sees the function as "helping people to make the best possible use of their medicines and aiming to provide advice and support to patients and healthcare professionals….and to ensure the benefits are maximised and harms minimised."
And the NHS Commissioning Board has created a new Medicines Optimisation function - a term widely preferred in Whitehall to "medicines management" - headed by Dr Ridge.
But many forward-thinking medicines management professionals who regard themselves as "the custodian of the public good, of doing what is right for the patient," are frustrated because their NHS bosses regard them purely as the "cash cow" of the organisation, and this prevents them from re-investing the savings they have achieved.
And while medicines management teams are often described as "silo thinkers", many in the field take exactly the opposite view. “Prescribing can no longer be put in a separate silo - it must be recognised as a tool that reduces death rates and hospital admissions, prevents disabilities and can reduce referrals to specialist care," one medicines management leader has stated.
But where does this leave the patient? For one industry leader, the answer is worryingly clear.
"There are millions of taxpayers, sometimes known as patients, who are entitled to the treatment they need and, while the cheapest may be good for the budget, it may not be so for the patient. Having to sue your PCT to gain access to new medicines supported by NICE, as has been suggested recently, is simply not acceptable."
"We also know that there is a mass of duplication in the assessment of medicines across the UK, delaying access for patients, massively increasing costs for pharma companies and, critically, undermining future investment."
"So, there is a need for both sides in this equation to step up to the plate and begin to try to understand each other's point of view. Otherwise, patients will continue to get caught in the crossfire," he warns.
The PDC meeting will be held on March 9 at The King's Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0AN, from 12-30pm to 4.00pm, including lunch. For further details please go to http://www.pharmatimes.com/Events/PharmaTimesDirectorsClub/MeetingAgenda.aspx or email firstname.lastname@example.org.