Medical Research - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:06 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:06 pm, 28th March 2017

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, which of course has a keen interest in medical research. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has made a very powerful case for the importance of medical research in the UK. This is very much under threat at the moment. No doubt the Minister will be tempted to read out a list of initiatives being undertaken by the Government to support research in the life sciences sector. Welcome though those initiatives are, I hope that she will focus her response on what seems to me to be the core issue, which is the imperfect relationship between the scale and quality of medical research in this country and the uptake and outcomes of that medical research.

The evidence is that the record of the NHS is very poor in actually adopting proven new medicines, treatments and devices. Of course, it is NHS patients who lose out. As noble Lords have already said, this is now being exacerbated by the unprecedented level of rationing that is taking place, both locally and nationally, in our National Health Service. A fairly recent report by the leading charities Breast Cancer Now and Prostate Cancer UK showed that NHS cancer patients are missing out on innovative treatments that are available in any comparative country in the world.

We then come to NICE. When the previous Labour Government set up NICE, it was actually designed to speed up the introduction of innovative new treatments. We are now seeing the Government develop NICE as, in essence, a rationer of treatments. I ponder whether the restrictions being brought in really are true to the legal position of NICE as established, and certainly to its moral position. We have already heard about the impact of the new £20 million cap. That will have a devastating impact on patients. At the heart of the problem of medical research is this: we rely hugely on the pharmaceutical sector for investment in R&D. How long can we expect that investment to continue with the incredibly poor take-up of the results of that investment by our National Health Service? That is the core question that the Minister has to answer. I believe that our medical research and life sciences sector is at risk. The Brexit issue has been well documented, but at the heart of this is that unless the National Health Service changes gear and is consistently seen to welcome and embrace the uptake of new medicines, the Government can talk about medical research and the life sciences sector, but all will come to naught unless they sort out the National Health Service and the incredibly debilitating rationing that we are now seeing take place.