ABHI UK HealthTech Conference Round-up

The Future of HealthTech Market Access in the UK

On Monday 16th October, the ABHI UK HealthTech Conference brought together industry leaders responsible for driving the adoption of HealthTech into the NHS, with stakeholders outlining the current and future landscape for HealthTech market access in the UK. Discussions highlighted the barriers to innovation adoption in the NHS, as well as the strategies and initiatives driven by the Government, the NHS, and bodies such as NICE and the Health Innovation Networks (HINs; formerly known as Academic Health Sciences Networks [AHSNs]) to improve the assessment, funding, and adoption of HealthTech into the NHS. Below we summarise the key areas of discussion at the conference.

The Role of Buyers

The ABHI presented the results of their most recent survey, and over 25% of respondents reported they had to remove a product from sale due to the selling price being below the cost price because of inflation. Furthermore, more than half of respondents reported not bidding on a tender because of the complexity of the process, the weighting towards price, significant reporting asks and the tender response time. It is clear there is work to be done to ensure the NHS are more flexible and collaborate more effectively with their suppliers to reduce the barriers to adoption.

The Chief Commercial Officer of the NHS brought promising news in this respect; a strategic framework for buying into the NHS is due to be published before the end of the year, and promises details of a central commercial function within the NHS and a blueprint for buying products consistently. Alongside this, to drive consistency in procurement across the 4,000 people responsible for buying products into the NHS, all procurement frameworks are to set to be reviewed and an accredited list of frameworks is set to the published late in 2024. The Chief Commercial Officer also announced a procurement bill is due to be passed and an SME action plan is in development to speed up and simplify procurement processes. The hope is that these activities will simplify routes to market for HealthTech. Whether this will allow HealthTech manufacturers to move some of their efforts away from selling at a trust level, remains to be seen.

The Chief Executive Officer at the NHS Supply Chain also discussed how they are looking to broaden the definition of value within the procurement process; this will include recognising that less carbon intensive products may be more expensive and that the 10% net zero and social value weighting should be applied to all NHS procurements. The CEO also highlighted the Supply Chain’s close relationship with NICE and the MHRA, and as part of this they will be looking to develop a modern commerce platform which allows buyers to compare products across a number of metrics.

The Role of NICE

Currently, there are a number of pathways for HealthTech appraisal by NICE, predominantly reflecting the type of technology. It was recognised by the Interim Director of Medical Technology and Digital Evaluation at NICE that the current processes are too fragmented and there are plans to simplify assessment to one pathway, as part of an ongoing NICE Transformation programme. To facilitate this simplification, NICE announced they are looking to conduct multi-tech appraisals, with adaptable methods for assessing the technologies, and to develop advice that is more user friendly. However, to date, NICE recommendation of medical technologies has had little impact on the uptake of a technology, in part driven by a lack of reimbursement for HealthTech (although the recent pilot of the MedTech Funding Mandate indicates a shift in direction on this, perhaps). An increased role for NICE at the centre of decision making for HealthTech was promised by the Director of the MedTech Directorate, which could indicate a substantial shift for the HealthTech industry.

With the upcoming NICE Conference taking place on 7th November 2023, we hope to find out more specific details of this NICE transformation to further understand the future of HealthTech assessment in England, and how changes in the appraisal process could integrate with regulatory and procurement processes to improve innovation adoption.

The Role of Government Bodies

The 10-year strategy for Life Sciences set in 2021 and the Long-term Investment for Technology and Science (LIFTS) commitment of £250 million of government funds directed towards the HealthTech industry suggest a growing focus for the Government. Despite this, the Director of the MedTech Directorate, recognised that innovation adoption in the NHS is still challenging, and to address this there are a number of initiatives underway:

  • Innovative Device Access Pathway (IDAP) pilot, which brings together the MHRA, NICE and NHS England to support adoption of eight early-stage innovations into the NHS
  • Health Tech Adoption and Acceleration (HTAA) fund, which allows ICS to apply for funding to expedite the adoption of technologies
  • A new Product Information Management (PIM) system is set to go live in 2026 and will be a single source of truth for product data to reduce transaction friction and improve visibility. The PIM will be handed over to the MHRA once developed

Although all of these initiatives and strategies allude to an easing of the barriers to the adoption of innovation within the NHS, the question still remains, how do you put innovation at the centre of a stressed NHS? Adoption of new technologies seems harder than ever with HCP strikes, a backlog of commercial clinical trials, inflationary pressures, and 7.75 million patients on the elective care waiting list (August 2023). Moreover, how does HealthTech innovation achieve approval in the current regulatory environment? The ABHI reported 50% of the organisations they surveyed had deprioritised EU market access because of the regulatory barriers.

This conference has suggested that the environment for HealthTech manufacturers may have more promising prospects providing the initiatives highlighted prove successful. A continued focus on both value-based procurement and minimising barriers to adoption is essential to ensure innovation can best improve patients’ lives, underpinned by continued collaboration between government, the NHS, industry and bodies such as the ABHI. We eagerly await the detailed announcement of the updates to the NICE processes and the results of the IDAP pilot.

Olivia Edwards is a MedTech Senior Analyst at Costello Medical. The views/opinions expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Costello Medical’s clients/affiliated partners.