Healthcare has changed dramatically since the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was established 22 years ago. We’ve seen incredible advancements in treatments for patients in all disease areas, from cancer and heart disease to genetic conditions, and the UK’s world-renowned life sciences sector continues to provide scientific breakthroughs that improve our understanding of diseases and how best to treat them.

It’s against this backdrop, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that NICE has launched a new five-year strategy to help bring the benefits of those innovations to patients more quickly.

From genomics and artificial intelligence to nanomedicine and digital health technologies, the range of diagnostics and treatments available to patients and their clinicians is vast. However, the journey from research concept to NHS practice is a complex and lengthy path. NICE has a key role to play in accelerating that journey, ensuring its processes can adapt to the innovative products being evaluated, all the while retaining its position as a beacon for evidence-based medicine world-wide.

It’s no secret that assessing new innovations to the rigorous and robust standards NICE upholds can be time-consuming. By making NICE processes more efficient, collaborating with innovators and other partners earlier, and specifying data collection requirements to reduce barriers, we can streamline the way we work. When we assess the latest drugs and devices we will extend the data we use from randomised control trials to include real world evidence, enabling us to make decisions on the effectiveness of new products based on how those treatments and therapies work in real life situations. We are already seeing this approach at work through collaborations such as the Innovative Licensing and Access Pathway and NICE’s Rapid COVID-19 guidance.

Our processes will need to alter for those medical therapies at the forefront of technological innovation too. Think of how often the software on our phones updates itself – new health advances, powered by machine learning algorithms will update just as frequently. Software as a medical device is on the near horizon and will need evaluation processes that are sufficiently dynamic to assess how well such advances can work for patients. The new strategy will see NICE devise and implement new evaluation processes that help to speed the most promising developments in medical technology through the regulatory system.

Patients deserve to benefit from medical and digital health improvements as soon as possible wherever they live and regardless of their background. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the devastating impact of health inequalities in our country. We must make sure that all patients have fair access to the treatments and care they need and NICE can play a crucial role in reducing these disparities and improving health by supporting consistent implementation of NICE guidance across the country.

NICE is privileged to be a part of a world-leading UK life sciences ecosystem and we understand the huge importance of the role we play in bringing benefits from research developments to patients quickly at a price the taxpayer can afford.

The future of healthcare is dynamic and exciting but there are inevitably challenges ahead. Above all NICE’s new strategy is to embed a new approach to our work that ensures we can be agile and flexible to meet these future challenges. Even more importantly, our strategy is designed to give us the confidence we can respond to those challenges we do not yet see but will inevitably meet, in order that we can fulfil our purpose for the benefit of patients and our country.

Sharmila Nebhrajani is NICE Chairman