Life Sciences

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 5th December 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health 3:32 pm, 5th December 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the strategy for UK life sciences that the Prime Minister is launching this afternoon at a leading life sciences conference. The life sciences industry is one of the most promising areas for growth in the UK economy. It has consistently shown stronger growth than the United Kingdom as a whole, and it accounts for 165,000 UK jobs and totals more than £50 billion in turnover. Pharmaceuticals alone account for more than a quarter of our total industrial research and development spend. Global pharmaceutical sales are predicted to grow by up to 6% a year in the coming years, and in emerging economies medical technology is achieving growth rates of more than 12%. A flourishing life sciences sector is essential if we want to build a more outward-looking, export-driven economy. The partnership between industry, the NHS and our outstanding universities is not just essential to economic growth; it will benefit millions of future and current NHS patients, fuelling the more rapid development of cutting-edge treatments and earlier access to those treatments for NHS patients.

Like many industries, the life sciences industry is undergoing rapid change. The old “big pharma” model of having thousands of highly-paid researchers working on a pipeline of blockbuster drugs is declining. A new model has emerged—one that is more about collaboration, the outsourcing of research and early clinical trials on patients. Excessive regulation can mean that the uptake of new treatments and technology is slow. That is a challenge felt acutely by an industry that sometimes feels that the return is not there quickly enough to satisfy investors. It is felt even more acutely by patients, who understandably expect that they should be able to access the latest and most effective treatments, and that new innovations in care should be adopted rapidly by the NHS.

We have a leading science base, four of the world’s top 10 universities and a national health service that is uniquely capable of understanding population health characteristics, but those strengths alone are not enough to keep pace with what is happening. We must radically change the way we innovate and the way we collaborate.

The life sciences strategy we launch today, alongside the NHS chief executive’s review on innovation, health and wealth, sets out how we will support closer collaboration between the NHS, industry and our universities, driving growth in the economy and improvements in the NHS. All the documents have been placed in the Library.

Among other key measures, we will set up a new programme between the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board to bring medical discoveries closer to commercialisation and use in the NHS. There are many medical products being developed to treat patients and the cost of developing them is high because they take a long time to develop and test. Investors want to see at least some evidence that the products might work in people and robust validation of the quality of the research and development work being undertaken, as well as of the capability of the company to bring the product to market, before they will finance the development of the products. That means that some of the best medical innovations are not making it through to patients. We are already providing investment to address that, but we believe that we can do more to support the development of these products across funding organisations and the successive stages of product development, which will support the development of promising innovations and help to increase the number of treatments made available to patients. We are therefore introducing a £180 million catalyst fund for the most promising medical treatments.

It can take more than 20 years from the first discovery of a drug until patients can be prescribed it by their doctor and we have already taken steps to address that. Through the National Institute for Health Research, we are investing £800 million in new research centres and two major translational research partnerships that will help cut the time between the development of new treatments and their application in the NHS—from the bench to the bedside.

Now, we are going further. As part of a major drive to improve innovation and access to medicines in the NHS, we are announcing proposals on a new early access scheme that could allow thousands of the most seriously ill patients to access new cutting-edge drugs up to a year earlier than they can now. Through the early access scheme, the medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, would provide a scientific opinion on the emerging benefits and risks of very promising new drugs to treat patients with life-threatening or debilitating conditions for whom there are no satisfactory treatment options. That will mean that seriously ill patients of any age who have no other hope of being treated or having their life extended could benefit from drugs more quickly, around a year before they are licensed.

We must also ensure that we make better use of our unique NHS data capability. It is often said that the NHS is data-rich but information-poor. As a national health service, it contains more data about health than any other comparable health system in the world, but neither the NHS nor scientists developing new drugs and treatments have always been able consistently to make good use of the data or to use them to drive further scientific breakthroughs.

We have seen how powerful the release of data can be. For example, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry now have access to a database covering 250,000 patients. It includes their brain scans, medical records and notes—a wealth of information, all consented to and all anonymised, that is helping them find new answers in the fight against dementia.

We need powerful data-handling capacity and the skills to write the software to mine them. That is why we are investing in e-infrastructure, which will provide secure data services to researchers. The clinical practice research datalink is being introduced by the MHRA in partnership with the NIHR and will provide a specialised service to the research and life sciences communities. Let me reassure the House that we will take all necessary steps to ensure safeguards for patient confidentiality.

We will also make sure that more UK patients get the opportunity to take part in national and international clinical trials and play a much greater role in the development of cutting-edge treatments. We believe that patients should have the right to access new treatments and be involved in research to develop new medicines.

We have responded to calls from research charities and clinicians for Government to get patients more involved in supporting research. A recent Ipsos MORI poll in June found that 97% of people believed it is important that the NHS should support research into new treatments and, in addition, 72% would like to be offered opportunities to be involved in research trials. We will therefore consult on changing the NHS constitution so that there is an assumption, with the ability to opt out, that data collected during a patient’s care by the NHS may be used for approved research.

That would make it clear that researchers and companies with new and potentially life-saving medicines could access the data of patients and could approach patients whom they feel could benefit in order to discuss their involvement in research studies. This would encourage growth in the life sciences industry as more people and more detailed data would be available for the important trials and research needed to get breakthrough treatments used more widely.

Additionally, we have set out actions to improve incentives for investment in innovation and to reduce regulatory bureaucracy. With the creation of the Health Research Authority, we will streamline regulation and improve the cost-effectiveness of clinical trials. As the NHS chief executive’s review of innovation has shown, the NHS needs to be quicker and smarter in adopting new technologies and approaches to care that can both save more lives and cut costs.

Sometimes, it is a question of evidence. Until recently, we could not say with certainty that telehealth could keep people out of hospital and save lives, and there was understandable reluctance among parts of the NHS and councils to invest in untried technology. However, as early results from the whole system demonstrator pilots show, the potential of telehealth is nothing short of remarkable, with dramatic reductions in mortality, in hospital admissions, in emergency visits and in the number of hospital bed days. To make the most of this, we will support the NHS and work in partnership with industry and councils dramatically to spread the use of telehealth over the next five years. In doing so, we are looking to transform the lives of 3 million people in this country.

We will become a global leader in the management of chronic and long-term conditions, generating massive opportunities for UK companies developing this technology. It will be innovation in practice and we will foster other proven innovations such as fluid management technology techniques that were developed for use in high-risk surgery and critical care to help clinicians administer fluids and drugs safely. In March 2011, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published guidance recommending that this technology should be used for patients undergoing major or high-risk surgery. Currently, it is used for fewer than 5% of applicable patients despite evidence showing that it could benefit 800,000 patients and save the NHS £400 million. We will launch a national drive to make sure that fluid management technology is used in appropriate settings across the NHS. That is one example of many.

The innovation review sets out how we will address all the barriers to innovation in the NHS, whether they involve culture, leadership, training, use of information or lack of incentives and investment. We will also introduce a NICE compliance regime that will mean that medicines approved by NICE will be available on the NHS much more quickly. The plans set out in today’s strategies will help to drive the development of new technologies to diagnose and treat the most complex diseases in this country for the benefit of NHS patients. This is a strong package of measures that will support economic growth and innovation in the NHS and will drive significant improvements in patient care. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and start by setting out two points of common ground with the Government? First, we too have pride in Britain’s life sciences industry and its strength. We agree that the industry needs Government support and focus if its potential to contribute to the country’s industrial future is to be maximised. Secondly, we agree that there are huge potential benefits to British patients from closer collaboration between the NHS and the industry. We all want patients to have the quickest possible access to the latest life-saving and life-enhancing treatments.

It was for those two principal reasons that Labour, when in government, prioritised the life sciences sector and established the Office for Life Sciences. In Lord Drayson, we created a life sciences Minister who was a contact point for the industry—someone of huge experience and with real personal commitment to the industry. One of our criticisms of this Government is that they have allowed the momentum that Labour had established in promoting the industry to fall away. Progress has stalled because of the Government’s failure to understand that economic growth needs a proper partnership between the public and private sector and because of the combined effect of a number of their policies. Such policies include: damaging 15% real-terms cuts to the science budget; the loss of the regional developments agencies, many of which were heavily involved in this area; cuts to regional investment; and the destabilising effect of the unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS, particularly the disintegration of the strategic health authorities, which played a role in promoting research. The unexpected closure of Pfizer earlier this year exposed a Government asleep at the wheel and was a wake-up call, and now we see a Government playing catch-up.

Although we welcome their belated recognition of the importance of the sector, there are sensitive issues involved and Ministers need to tread carefully so as not to undermine public trust. What they are fond of calling red tape are, to others, essential safeguards. Some areas will always need proper regulation and the use of patient data is most certainly one of them. As we have heard from patients groups today, some have been caused real anxiety by this media-briefed statement from the Government and the lack of accompanying detail.

Ministers need to be aware that people with terminal illnesses and long-term conditions will react differently from others to a statement of this kind, so for them we seek direct assurances today from the Secretary of State that he failed to give in his statement. Will all patients have the ability to opt out of the sharing of their data, even in anonymised form? Surely that fundamental principle of consent should form the bedrock of any new system, and that control of data should be possible in today’s information age. If the Secretary of State cannot give that assurance, why not? How can he justify that?

Did patients’ representatives walk away from the Department of Health working group on these important matters and, if so, why? One representative said on the radio this morning that the whole process “stinks”. Does the Secretary of State not accept that he and his Department will need to do better than this to uphold public confidence in the process or risk undermining trust in the whole principle? What safeguards will there be to ensure that patient data are stored securely? Does he not need to articulate a more positive statement of patients’ rights in this important area, rather than the loose opt-out he proposes in the NHS constitution?

Is it the case that the anonymity of data cannot always be guaranteed? If so, what are those circumstances and, again, why not? Even within anonymised datasets, particularly dealing with small numbers of very specific conditions, it is possible to identify individual patients. What steps are being taken to guard against those risks? Will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that data cannot be used for purposes other than research—passed on to third parties or used by the same company to target people for other products and services?

Today’s announcement also needs to be considered in the context of the Government’s reorganisation of the NHS. Does not a more market-based health system with a greater number of private providers create much greater challenges for the control of data? I had many dealings with senior figures in the pharmaceutical industry in my time as a Minister. They were clear that it was the national structure of the NHS, and the ability to collaborate and share information across a whole health system, that was a huge attraction to the industry and a competitive strength for this country.

Does not the Secretary of State’s Health and Social Care Bill risk turning the NHS into a competitive market, where collaboration is discouraged in an any-qualified-provider free-for-all? So how can he guarantee that that competitive strength will be there in the future and will continue to be used by the pharmaceutical industry? Although he will not admit it today, were not many of the measures he has announced, particularly the expansion of telecare, made possible by the steps that we took to invest and modernise NHS IT?

More broadly, this announcement raises questions about the Government’s policy on the involvement of the private sector in the NHS. The Government need to set out what, if any, limit they see on the involvement of the private sector in the NHS. The Prime Minister has said that he wants the NHS to be a fantastic business. Let me quote from a recent leaked document on NHS commissioning, “Towards Service Excellence”. It says:

“The NHS sector . . . needs to make the transition from statutory function to freestanding enterprise.”

It is no wonder that, on the back of these worrying words, the British Medical Association has adopted a position of outright opposition to the Secretary of State’s Bill. Our worry is that, in their desperation to develop a credible industrial strategy, Ministers seem ready to put large chunks of the NHS up for sale.

Patient data are not the Secretary of State’s to give away. The NHS is not his to sell. The truth is that the Government are running huge risks with patient confidentiality and patient safety by opening up the

NHS to the private sector and re-organising at a time of financial stress, but we do not yet know the full scale of those risks.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health

It is.

The great irony is this: while Ministers are happy to offer up other people’s data, they continue to withhold the NHS risk register, which shows the risk they are running with our NHS. Is that not why people are increasingly asking what the Secretary of State has to hide?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am afraid that the last sentence was not really worth it, Mr Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman, while talking about things that were completely irrelevant to my statement, asked a number of questions. Will patients be able to opt out? Yes. It is clear that they will be able to opt out, as I have said. Are there risks relating to a small number of patients being identified? No. As he should know, and as has been done in relation to the general practice research database, where there are small populations of patients in which it might be possible to indentify individuals, or where a small number of patients have very specific sub-sets of conditions and there is a risk of identification, it is perfectly possible to ensure that that information cannot be accessed through the database. We have made it clear that data would be not only anonymised—in fact, it would be double anonymised—in order to ensure that it cannot be recreated, but viewed in such a way that will make it impossible to identify from the circumstances of the data where the patient comes from.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the database must be used for approved research or could be used for other purposes. It must be used for approved research and cannot be used for other purposes. It is not a database that people, whoever they may be, whether from universities or pharmaceutical research companies, can simply access in order to go mining for information; they must do so only through the MHRA and for approved research purposes.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked—frankly, I think it is irrelevant—about the extent of the private sector’s role. Unlike his predecessor, Patricia Hewitt, who was Secretary of State when he was a Health Minister, and who said that she was aiming for 10% or 15% private sector involvement, we are not looking for a specific level of private sector involvement or creating a free market in the NHS. It will continue to be a national health service with the national characteristics that we would expect, funded through taxation and available to all based on need, not ability to pay, and in this context it will continue to be a national NHS. The simple fact that, among other measures in the life sciences strategy, we are able to show how we can bring data sets together, including the general practice database, the hospital episodes statistics, the cancer registries and so on, in order to show the power of data across the whole NHS to support research for new treatments is a complete vindication of the fact that it will be a national health service—that it will change in that respect and that patients will benefit from both the national health service and the research that comes with it.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

May I be the first warmly to welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and to make a bid for the catalyst fund for regenerative medicine, which not only offers great hope for the future but is providing life-saving treatment through umbilical cord blood? I refer him to the recommendation the UK stem cell strategic forum made last year for collaboration between universities, hospitals and farming industries to make greater use of the application of cord blood now and in future.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and heartily welcome his support for the opportunities in regenerative medicine. I was fortunate enough to meet at the UK Stroke Forum last Thursday, among those exhibiting, a company that is based in England but undertaking trials and research activity in Scotland and is looking precisely at how it can use foetal-derived stem cells for regenerative purposes. Andy Burnham talked about Pfizer. In my constituency, it has been one of the companies leading the development of new regenerative medicine techniques. That is clearly one of the areas that this country has tremendous potential in developing. The technology innovation centre for regenerative medicine was announced in the “Plan for Growth” published alongside the Budget earlier this year, and I hope that it will be one of the areas in which we will see those developments.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

The Health Committee, in its report on the electronic patient record, published in September 2007, stated that the highly detailed data captured had “outstanding” prospects for new and improved research, but it also asked that the best balance be found between

“the opportunity to improve access for research purposes with the ongoing need to safeguard patient privacy”.

Do the Government believe they can get that right, so that we can go ahead and use the enormous amount of data that we have in this country to improve health care for patients not just here, but throughout the world?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is here and able to ask that question, because he was the Chair of the Health Committee in September 2007, when it stated that the secondary use of data in the NHS was “vital” for the development of the NHS, including for research use. I hope that he is one of those who recognise that what we are setting out in the life sciences strategy—in particular, with the clinical practice research datalink—will enable precisely all those secondary uses for research to be developed.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

As the Secretary of State will know well, the Cambridge area is world leading in life sciences, both in academia and in industry. This strategy, and the investment to go with it, is very welcome indeed and will, I am sure, support a lot of activity in Cambridge and in South Cambridgeshire. There is one slightly sour note about private data, however, so I hope that the details will be published of exactly how the steps to which the Secretary of State referred will be taken to protect that, but, on clinical trials and what will happen to regulation, will he implement in full the recommendations of the Academy of Medical Sciences?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He and I share a vigorous and vibrant life sciences sector, and I hope that the strategy that we have announced today will be taken up rapidly in our constituencies. He asks about the Academy of Medical Sciences. Back in the “Plan for Growth” in the Budget, we responded precisely to that point, and on 1 December, as a consequence of the positive response to what the academy said, I brought into effect the Health Research Authority to ensure that we simplify the process of approval for clinical trials. Through the National Institute for Health Research, as we said earlier in the year, we are seeking to arrive at a point where there is a maximum of 70 days for the first recruitment of patients to clinical trials, and that will get us into an internationally competitive position.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

May I ask the Secretary of State a further question about the rights of people to opt out of the scheme? Will he extend the right of opt-out for those people who refuse to participate in the scheme to include a refusal of the advantages that come from sharing such information, which will be gained by the generosity of spirit of their fellow citizens who participate?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but the ethical approach is for everyone to have access to the latest and best available treatments through the NHS. That is the principle that we apply, but we should be aware that, although we offer people the right to opt out, we have seen—for example, in relation to the general practice research database, where patients have the equivalent right to opt out, and in two pilots conducted on the proposals that we have announced—that the rate of opt out is 0.1%.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Conservative, Totnes

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, as this strategy will reduce the delay between discovery and dispensing and, undoubtedly, bring great benefits to patients and to our pharmaceutical industry, but in return will he ask the industry to go further and publish negative trial data, as well as positive trial data, as a gesture to improve the quality of research data?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. The industry has done quite a lot in recent years in publishing more data, including data that do not necessarily support the positive case that it is looking for, because all of us, and especially those working in the field, learn a great deal and, sometimes, as much from clinical trials that produce a negative result as we do from those that produce a positive result. So, I will certainly take her point away, explore it with my colleagues and write to her if we can take further steps in that direction.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Are the patient data proposals to be England-only or UK-wide? If so, what is the relationship with projects such as the SAIL—Secure Anonymised Information Linkage—database in Swansea and Biobank? I foresee some ethical problems, as Biobank operates specifically on a voluntary basis with a written, sought-for consent. Does the Secretary of State see that there might be some problems there?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful for that question. What we are setting out is hosted by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which will be able to link datasets for which it is responsible, which do, in some cases, have a UK basis rather than an England-alone basis.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

I welcome the statement. The Secretary of State mentions telehealth, which is currently making greater progress in Scotland than in England. Has this anything to do with less structural reform or more strategic leadership?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend might like to know that while initial and very positive steps were taken in Scotland —for example, in Lanarkshire—we have now undertaken, through the whole system demonstrator pilots, the world’s largest randomised control trial of telehealth technology, and that gives us a strength from which we can develop telehealth systems that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. In so far as there is a capacity to provide telehealth systems and provide for their use across health care systems, I suspect that we shall shortly see England overtake Scotland in that respect. It is a form of competition that I am perfectly happy to be engaged in—and if the Scots can do better than us, then good luck to them. However, we are showing, through these pilots, how we are ready to go at developing something of great benefit to patients.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

It is good to see that the Secretary of State is now on the same side of the debate as me regarding NO2ID and similar issues. Nevertheless, there is an important issue about ensuring the greatest public buy-in to the issue of data sharing, and careful work is needed on that. May I specifically ask him about the catalyst fund? To what extent is this new money? Can he assure the House that money from patient care is not being transferred into the catalyst fund? Will the Technology Strategy Board be able to control its use, or will it be directed by Government?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

In the first instance, the £180 million to which I referred consists of £90 million from the Medical Research Council, which is new money within its existing budget but not at the expense of any other programmes. The other £90 million is provided by the Treasury to the TSB and is new money. None of this comes out of any NHS resources. The implementation will be led by the Medical Research Council, so to that extent it will not be driven by Government.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

Does my right hon. Friend believe that there is a threat that parts of the UK pharmaceutical industry might relocate overseas if this package of reforms does not proceed?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

There is always that risk because, as my hon. Friend entirely knows, international competition is intense, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector. Following the measures that were announced alongside the Budget in the plan for growth, not least the availability of the patent box from April 2013, it is clear from discussions that my right hon. Friends and I have had with many of the boards of leading international pharmaceutical companies that the United Kingdom is now becoming a better location for investment in pharmaceutical activity than used to be the case. Those companies look very positively at the steps we have taken on regulatory activity and clinical trials, at the steps we are taking on promoting innovation through the value-based pricing system, and in particular, understandably, at the tax measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced, especially on the patent box.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

The Secretary of State’s statement raises a number of important ethical issues. Will he take a close look at the emerging proposals for a medipark that is close to Wythenshawe hospital and part of Greater Manchester’s airport city enterprise zone? This has tremendous potential to attract investment from global bioscience and pharmaceutical companies, which would make a massive difference in my constituency and way beyond that. Will he look to see what support can be offered?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I will gladly do so. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the designation of an academic health science centre in Manchester has supported many developments. We want to go further. In today’s life sciences strategy, we are making it clear that not only do we want to maintain the academic health science centre designation as a world-class designation for comprehensive research centres, but we want to go further and ensure that such centres are used to diffuse and spread innovation across the NHS more effectively. Next spring, we will set out how we will enable academic health science networks to be designated. That will happen during 2012-13. I will happily look at the circumstances in south Manchester and at how this matter will apply there. I hope that partnerships will be forged between the NHS, universities and the private sector of the kind that he and I know will be successful.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a world of difference between streamlining regulation, to use his phrase, and the picture of the indiscriminate abolishment of regulation that the Opposition tried to create? Such streamlining is essential to cut the time from invention to adoption.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am clear, and I know that my hon. Friend agrees, that we must ensure that the regulatory processes are effective and that the medicines that are available in this country are of the necessary quality, safe and effective. However, we must not allow the delays that are inherent in some of these processes to prevent information from being provided on the basis of which clinicians, with the active, informed consent of patients, can access what they regard as potentially effective medicines. In the overall context of patient safety, we do patients a serious disservice if we know that there is a potentially effective medicine available and do not give them the first possible opportunity to access it.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

The Secretary of State says that his proposals reflect his commitment to the national health service. If GPs will be commissioning treatments, how will he ensure that they commission new and more effective treatments that might be more expensive?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

As the hon. Lady will know, the Health and Social Care Bill that is being considered in another place will, for the first time, place a direct legal duty to support innovation on clinical commissioning groups. That will be supported by the process of commissioning from the acute sector, in which the quality increments in the tariff will directly drive innovations in best practice.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. These proposals are vital for the competitiveness of life sciences and pharmaceuticals, which are vital for the UK and for the local economy in Macclesfield. Will he tell the House how these steps will reduce the time that is taken to establish clinical trials, which has been a barrier for far too long?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

The principal impact that we are having relates to the National Institute for Health Research, which, through its contracts with the NHS and other partners, is driving the time to the first recruitment of clinical trials down to 70 days. That will get us to a competitive position. We are also working in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, for example to look at how some of the new stratified medicines will be available. Today, we are entering into partnership with AstraZeneca, which is close to my hon. Friend’s constituency, to understand what specific compounds are likely to be of benefit to some subsets of the population with cancer through the use of targeted new medicines.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

As the policy rests on the trust in the regulatory body that was tardy in protecting patients against the adverse side effects of Vioxx and Seroxat, is it not time that we had a fully independent MHRA and not one that is funded entirely by the pharmaceutical industry? As big pharma pays the piper, is it not possible that it will call the tune for its own commercial interests?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The MHRA operates, in scientific and expert terms, in an independent fashion. In so far as it is accountable, it is accountable to me as Secretary of State and to this House. It is not accountable to the pharmaceutical industry. If he is proposing a major transfer of costs from the pharmaceutical industry to the taxpayer, I am afraid that I do not agree with him.

Photo of Nick de Bois Nick de Bois Conservative, Enfield North

I warmly welcome the commitment to telehealth and the expansion of it over the next five years. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that that represents a step change for patients? Will it be the responsibility of councils and stakeholders to demonstrate the value and benefits of telehealth to their patients, so that there is full buy-in?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The figures from the evaluation of the 6,000 or so patients who have participated in the three pilots in Cornwall, Kent and Newham suggest that if telehealth is appropriately and properly provided, there are benefits. There was a total reduction of 45% in mortality, about 21% in accident and emergency visits, about 15% in planned admissions and bed stays in hospital and about 8% in costs. Those are dramatic benefits, but the most important aspect is the empowerment that telehealth gives patients so that they can be at home and be confident about their care, rather than be prey to rapid crises leading to admission to hospital.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Is this whole idea not being driven by the pharmaceutical industry in order to make money? In the real world, when I have been in hospital in these past 10 or 15 years for all sorts of different problems, all of us have relied on the care and attention of the doctors and nurses. There was an increase of about 30,000 doctors and 80,000 nurses, because we put a lot more money in. I did not meet anybody at all who ever said to me, “I’ve just been given some drugs to look after my heart, but I don’t like them and I want something else”. The whole thing is a money-making exercise by the pharmaceutical industry, which has friends in the Tory party. We are supposed to be short of money in this country and in the health service. What we really need is to stop sacking nurses, which will make it a lot better.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman will have to talk to Andy Burnham, who claimed to be the friend of the pharmaceutical industry. The truth is that we should all be friends of it and support it. Why? Because it has the capacity to bring in new medicines and new treatments that are to the benefit of patients. From my point of view, it is not about the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry, it is about working with those who have the greatest potential to bring investment to this country for economic benefit and, more importantly, to improve benefits for patients. The hon. Gentleman, who has no doubt been the beneficiary of many therapeutic improvements generated by investment in the pharmaceutical industry, should not decry it.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Yes, but in a free health service, not a privatised health service, which it will be—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

May I say gently to the Secretary of State that we are enjoying the full product of his lucubrations, but I think just a snapshot will do. We can get by with that. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Mr Burns, can look it up in his dictionary later. That is fine.

W

Well, speaking of "lucubrations" and "snapshots", ought not this pompous little man follow his own advice. Apart from that, it was the aged, out-of-touch MP Dennis Skinner who went on and on and on and on, and yet he was never called to task by the little man. Bercow is now so...

Submitted by William Joicey Continue reading (and 2 more annotations)

Photo of Michael Crockart Michael Crockart Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

Key to the strategy announced today is the ability to translate primary research into early adoption and commercial outcomes. Does the Secretary of State agree that Edinburgh’s BioQuarter is uniquely placed to do that, as it already shares a campus with the state-of-the-art royal infirmary of Edinburgh and is hopefully soon to be joined by the excellent sick children’s hospital, providing a base for the commercialisation of the innovative work being carried out by Edinburgh’s universities?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and far be it from me to comment further. He explained very well the benefits associated with investment and developments in Edinburgh and how the universities, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS are working together there. That is also happening in locations in England, and across the United Kingdom we are providing real opportunities for international investment in biosciences.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey

During my time working within the hospice movement, it was my privilege to meet many patients and families. They naturally wanted everything at their disposal that would extend patients’ lives or at the very least make them more comfortable. At times, they would feel frustrated that patients in other countries benefited from drugs before they could, even though they were invented here. What is the Secretary of State doing to try to rectify that problem?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend makes a very good point from his personal experience. It is precisely because we recognised that patients in Britain were not getting access to the latest cancer medicines as quickly as patients in other countries that we were clear at the election that we would introduce a cancer drugs fund. Since the introduction of the fund in October 2010, more than 7,500 patients have accessed new cancer medicines through it. The early access scheme that I have described will go even a step further in anticipating the successful, efficacious introduction of new medicines in a way that allows patients and clinicians sometimes to access medicines even before the point at which they are licensed.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

As a graduate in biological sciences, I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to life sciences in this country. In my opinion, there has been too much of a disconnect between vital research at universities and in the private sector and the NHS. How will the Secretary of State ensure that the biggest beneficiaries of the release of these valuable data are UK patients and universities, and UK-based companies?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

I would instance two things in that respect, the first of which is the developing collaborations that were started under the academic health science centres and that will be continued through the networks that we want to extend. Those partnerships are specifically designed—£800 million was allocated in August, based on a competition—to enable the translation of discovery into new medicines in this country.

Secondly, the £180 million catalyst fund, which the MRC and Technology Strategy Board will implement, is specifically designed to take those ideas—the MRC says that it has some 360 such potential developments in medicines and treatments—through to the point at which they can be developed. Of course, that will be in this country.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Given that Northamptonshire has one of the most rapidly growing populations of patients in older age of anywhere in the country, I am sure my constituents will welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment that this country will become the global leader in the management of chronic and long-term conditions. We want to realise that praiseworthy ambition, but how far behind the curve are we at the moment?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

The answer to that question varies depending on which conditions one is talking about. When one looks at the OECD “Health at a Glance” data that was published on 23 November, one sees how relatively poor are our mortality outcomes in relation to respiratory and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. By contrast, we are slightly better than average in relation to diabetes. However, I have seen for myself how well patients with COPD can manage their conditions at home. For example, they can see their blood oxygen levels day-by-day and have supplies of medicines at home, including steroids. They can therefore anticipate and deal with any exacerbations of their condition so that they do not end up in an ambulance going to hospital late at night.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

From earlier access to potentially life-saving medicines through to releasing the power of information in the NHS, there is much to welcome in this statement. Given the importance of techniques such as pseudonymisation, how satisfied is the Secretary of State with the priority afforded to developing the informatics capability of NHS staff?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend makes an important point, to which I fear I do not have time to respond fully. One thing that I hope we can do as a consequence of abandoning the previous Government’s failed NHS IT structure is empower many individual hospital trusts and general practices once more to develop their own informatics expertise, which will stretch beyond IT infrastructure to the positive uses of data and information for the benefit of patients.