Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:04 pm on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy Conservative 3:04 pm, 2nd September 2020

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as an adviser to Intuitive Surgical, to and, until the end of August, to the Department of Health and Social Care.

I congratulate my noble friend on bringing this Bill to the House; I know how hard he has worked to do that. For those of us concerned to make sure that British patients get access to the best drugs and devices—and, frankly, after the past six months, who is not concerned with that?—this is the most important piece of legislation we have in front of us.

My belief is that the Bill gives the UK the chance to create the most rigorous, innovative and safety-conscious regulatory scheme in the world. While there are many downsides to leaving our current system in the EU, as noble Lords have pointed out, there are many benefits, too. Just look at the way that the US FDA has embraced digital and algorithmic therapeutics, while the EMA has lagged behind. To make the most of these new freedoms, we need a regulatory system that can evolve in response to new discoveries and advances in medicine.

Considerable concern has already been expressed in the House today, and no doubt will continue to be throughout the afternoon, about the use of delegated powers in the Bill to provide this kind of flexibility. Having been in my noble friend’s shoes, and having been not so gently admonished by the DPRRC in the past, I can only say that this is not a hill that I wish to die on again. But it seems to me that we are exchanging one system of delegated powers for another, with the added benefit that the authority that will be using these powers has the virtue of being elected by the people it seeks to regulate. At the very least, this is surely an improvement on the status quo ante.

There are two substantive issues that I would particularly like to focus on, already raised by my noble friend: innovation and patient safety. On innovation, we currently benefit from being in one of the top two markets in the world for medicines and devices, and our regulator is rightfully regarded as one of the best in the world. As other noble Lords have said, leaving the European system could bring challenges when it comes to patients accessing innovative therapies, but these can be more than mitigated by a new joined-up approach to research, regulation and uptake. This would require the creation of a world-beating, digitally powered clinical trials infrastructure to test ground-breaking medicines and devices; a rapid but rigorous regulatory process for the most promising technologies; as my noble friend Lord Lansley has pointed out, the creation of an innovative medicines fund to bring those to market; and harnessing the collective might of the NHS to adopt and scale those therapies.

My noble friend the Minister pointed out that during the Covid crisis this is precisely what we have done for therapeutics, vaccines and other technologies that can help. The pandemic has shown British science and medicine at its best. Does he agree that we now need this kind of regulatory regime for all medicines and devices in the future? If so, will he tell the House when comprehensive plans for creating such a regime will be published?

Even as we go about producing the most pro-innovation regulatory regime in the world, we must never forget, as my noble friend Lady Cumberlege put it in her excellent report, that our obligation is first to do no harm. Too many people—often, it seems, women—have borne the brunt of an approach to post-licensing surveillance that, historically, has been too analogue and too unresponsive to patients’ needs. The sad consequences of this are movingly documented in my noble friend’s report. I wholeheartedly endorse her recommendations, and I am delighted that the government amendments in the other place will improve the use of data for patient safety.

But let us be clear: there is much more to do, so I ask my noble friend the Minister, when will the Government respond to the Cumberlege report’s thoughtful and sensible proposals? Does my noble friend agree that we should use the next few weeks to make progress on implementing its recommendations? Otherwise, as I am sure he is aware, he might find that the House does that work for him.

I have every confidence that my noble friend will work with noble Lords to produce a pro-innovation, safety-conscious regulatory system for the UK. He has my support for those efforts, and I am happy to welcome and support his Bill.