As NHS approaches 70 it is time to unleash the potential of innovation to transform patient care, says Simon Stevens

The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, will today (Tuesday 12 September) set out an ambitious vision for the National Health Service as it approaches its landmark 70th anniversary – calling on health and care leaders to unleash the game changing potential of innovation for both patients and taxpayers.

Speaking at Expo conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens will unveil new plans to free up funds for the latest world class treatments by slashing hundreds of millions from the nation’s drugs bill and announce that new and cutting edge treatments will be routinely available for the first time.

Innovations include:

  • Revolutionary new treatment for Hepatitis C is set to save NHS England more than £50 million as well as saving thousands more lives
  • New measures to slash up to another £300 million from the nation’s medicines bill
  • Trailblazing new treatment to restore sight using patients’ own teeth
  • Routine commissioning of the latest technology to help deaf children hear
  • An expansion of the test-bed programme testing the treatments and care models of tomorrow

Mr Stevens will reveal that investment in new oral treatments that can cure Hepatitis C more quickly and with fewer side effects has already led to a 10 per cent reduction in the number of deaths and an unprecedented reduction in liver transplants for Hepatitis C of around 50 per cent.

This is the latest in a series of innovative drug deals that has been made possible by NHS England working closely with industry to bring prices down, expand treatment options and make new treatments available rapidly – in one case within just four weeks of a treatment receiving its marketing authorisation.

Health and care leaders will also hear how new rules on the use of biosimilar medicines – cheaper but equally clinically effective to original ‘biological’ treatments –giving doctors a choice of new treatments for thousands of patients with serious and painful conditions, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but at a significantly reduced cost.

Currently six of the top 10 drugs in the UK by cost are biological medicines – the most complex and therefore expensive used in the NHS. The plans to accelerate and widen the uptake of biosimilars will save hundreds of millions of pounds from the nation’s medicine bill, estimated to be up to £300m a year by 2021.

Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive said: “The NHS has a proud history of innovation. As our 70th anniversary approaches it is important that we do not just celebrate these often unsung achievements but also unleash the full potential of innovation in treatment and commissioning to ensure we deliver high quality healthcare for future generations.”

Further detail on the Hep C announcement is in a new report that shines a light on specialised services, those which support people with a range of rare and complex conditions will also be published. It highlights recent standout investments across blood and infection, cancer, mental health, internal medicine, trauma and woman and children and how these will continue to be rolled out over the coming years.

One of those treatments to benefit from £700,000 of new investment is a medical technique called auditory brainstem implants which can help restore the sensation of hearing to some children born with profound deafness. The operation is performed by Central Manchester University Hospitals, and involves inserting a device directly against the brainstem, bypassing the cochlea and auditory nerve and could help around nine children a year.

Another innovative procedures outlined is a unique life-changing procedure known as osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP) or ‘tooth in-eye’ surgery, which restores vision to blind patients by using part of the patient’s own tooth root to support an optical cylinder.

The procedure takes place in several stages and is performed on blind patients with damaged corneas, for whom traditional transplants are not suitable. One patient who had the procedure was blind for twelve years before the surgery but after the bandages came off, he immediately saw faces and pictures on the hospital ward.

Mr Stevens has also signalled NHS England’s intent to continue to develop the successful Test Bed Programme as the NHS goes into its 70th year. Seven sites have been working with 40 innovators, 51 digital technology products, eight evaluation teams and five voluntary sector organisations to understand which products and processes can save and transform lives, at the same or lower cost than current practice.

For more information on the Test Bed Programme see our website here.

In the coming years, more biological medicines are set to lose patent exclusivity and more biosimilar medicines are expected to come into the marketplace. Biosimilars that are already delivering safe, effective treatment for patients and cost savings for the NHS, include:

  • Biosimilar Infliximab, which is used to treat rheumatology conditions and inflammatory bowel disease, came on the market in March 2015, and is currently being used by 80 per cent of patients
  • Biosimilar Etanercept, which is used to treat rheumatology conditions, became available in April 2016, and 58 per cent of patients are using it
  • Switching to these two latest biosimilars has already saved the NHS approximately £160 million per annum.
  • In April 2017, biosimilar Rituximab, a medicine that treats cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, became available
  • In 2018 biosimilar Adalimumab will become available, which is used to treat rheumatology conditions and inflammatory bowel disease – this will offer an biosimilar alternative to the current medicine which accounts for the highest spend in hospitals – more than £300 million in 2015/16.

The introduction of lower cost biosimilar medicines has the dual advantage of also driving down the cost of the original drug. For example, the cost per defined daily dose for Infliximab has fallen by nearly two-thirds from £16.80 to £6.84.