NHS chief Sir David Nicholson's review of how innovation is diffused within the NHS must examine the use of medicines as a priority, drugmakers have urged.

Faster uptake of new technologies and innovative new medicines is vital to helping the government deliver its goal of better treatment for NHS patients, according to a spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), commenting yesterday on Prime Minister David Cameron's speech at Ealing Hospital in west London on how the government wants to progress its NHS reforms.

"It is essential that all the bodies responsible for implementing NHS reforms have an obligation to foster the use of innovation in the NHS. If the NHS is too slow to embrace new technologies, there will be missed opportunities to improve healthcare,” said the industry group, which went on to point out that despite having prices which are among the lowest in Europe, the UK continues to lag behind in the uptake of innovative new medicines. This suggests that price alone is not the main driver of access in the NHS, the group added.

In his speech, Mr Cameron said that, while in some cases the UK is closing the gap with its European neighbours in terms of improved outcomes, there is still some way to go.

"If we had cancer survival rates at the average of Europe, we'd save 5,000 lives a year. If we had respiratory disease care equivalent to the average in Europe, we'd save 2,000 lives a year," he said, adding: "we're approaching the European average spending on health. I just think it's time we had the confidence to say we should have some of the best health outcomes in Europe too."

Mr Cameron warned of the "enormous" financial pressures which the NHS will be facing in the years ahead, driven by both unprecedented growth in demand and the cost of new drugs and technologies.

The overall cost of medicines has been growing on average by nearly £600 million a year, and a lot of this has been driven by new treatments coming on stream, he said. "Ten years ago, no one had heard of [Roche's} cancer drug Herceptin [trastuzumab] - now it is widely available for the women who need it, at a cost of almost £100 million a year. For diabetes, the cost of newer treatments meant drug costs rose by £200 million over five years, that's an increase of 42%," he added.

"Timely interventions with effective new drugs and treatments can of course save money, but when a new gene test can cost thousands and when robots costing millions are increasingly the right option for complicated surgery, the pressure on costs far outstrips any potential efficiencies," said the Prime Minister.

The ABPI responded by agreeing that the NHS should seek value for money from medicines and that it is for the industry to demonstrate the full value of its products. "It is for government to put in place processes which assess that full value, and then secure access to that value for NHS patients," said the industry group.

Commenting on the Prime Minister's speech, Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the British Medical Association (BMA), said that doctors agree with Mr Cameron that the NHS needs to change - there needs to be greater integration, greater efficiency and more emphasis on prevention.

However, the Health Bill as it is currently written would make these improvements far harder to achieve, leading to a more fragmented health service, and most doctors would not feel able to support the Bill unless it is radically amended, Dr Meldrum warned.