Medical Research - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:43 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Crossbench 7:43 pm, 28th March 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for securing this debate and congratulate him on his thoughtful opening remarks. I declare an interest as chief executive of Breast Cancer Now and chair of the National Cancer Research Institute.

We will surely maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of global medical research through a focus on securing the best talent, intelligent regulation and strong investment. We must continue to attract, secure and keep the best scientific talent in the UK, including those EU nationals who populate our excellent research centres around the UK. Those people need to know that their position in this country is secure.

Alongside this, we need a regulatory framework, aligned with the new EU clinical trials regulation that will enable us to collaborate. Collaboration is at the heart of successful research, so we need to be able to collaborate with partners across borders for the benefit of UK patients and the UK life sciences sector.

Underpinning this is the need for investment and the support that charities give. Government and industry investment secures patients’ access to the most cost-effective modern treatments while allowing our economy to thrive. On the one hand, we have heard much about the Government’s commitment to research funding, not least in the Autumn Statement and the recent industrial strategy, but on the other, the reality of what is happening on the ground can feel very different.

As the noble Lord has explained, despite it being extremely difficult for drugs to be approved under the NICE cost-effectiveness appraisal process, NICE and NHS England are about to introduce a cap that could restrict access to treatments that cost more than £20 million for up to three years. In some cases, that could be even longer. Millions of patients could face major delays in accessing the life-saving and life-extending treatments they need which have already been deemed by our system to be clinically and cost effective by NICE. If this test comes into effect, as we are advised it could do shortly, it could cost the lives of patients, particularly those with incurable conditions. Not only could the proposals have devastating implications for patients but they run counter to the Government’s own ambitions for the UK as a global hub for research and innovation. As we have heard, such drugs need to be accessed by patients through the NHS for us to see our life sciences industry joined up with the NHS and thriving.

One in five new treatments would be likely to be affected by the new cap, so can the Minister explain the legal basis for it, as I understand that NICE is established in statute? I, too, urge the Minister to do what she can to encourage NICE and NHS England to think again.