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21 March 2011: National Healthcare Science Event

  • Last modified date:
    8 April 2011

Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, addresses Healthcare Scientists.

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Since its foundation, the National Health Service has improved and saved the lives of countless numbers of men, women and children.  The lion’s share of credit for this has always gone to the doctors and nurses who, most of the time, are the public face of the NHS. 

But as every one of them will readily admit, healthcare is not an individual pursuit but a team effort.

One of the most important members of the NHS team, but one that often little known to the public, are healthcare scientists. 

So I want to start by paying tribute to all of you who do so much to make the National Health Service what it is.

To the microbiologists, clinical biochemists and toxicologists who analyse and interpret the body and its fluids.

To the embryologists who help to create life.

To the audiologists, cardiac and respiratory scientists who diagnose and assess the impact of disease on the main organs of the body.

To the engineers, the physicists and the technicians who design, build and operate some of our most advanced technologies.

To the people who work in NHS Blood and Transplant, who deliver  a service so vital for the success of so much that happens within the NHS.

To the people in the Health Protection Agency who help to protect us from infectious diseases.

To all healthcare scientists, all of you working hard to further our understanding of medicine, to improve the quality of treatment and to help make people’s lives better... thank you.

The incredible range of stories told in last year’s book, ‘Extraordinary You’, highlighted just the tip of this iceberg of the talent that exists in the NHS.

When healthcare scientists come forward and tell their stories, people quickly comprehend the true depth of their contribution to the Health Service.

So I was so pleased to see that Professor Nick Stone from Gloucester was one of the key speakers at the recent NHS Innovation Expo, talking about his exciting work to harness the potential of biophotonics

Across the country, it is healthcare scientists as much as any other group who make the National Health Service as successful, as innovative and as effective as it is.
But despite its successes, there is still so much the NHS can do, and needs to do, better.

We need to have more diagnostics in the right place at the right time to deliver the outcomes that people expect from the NHS –reducing mortality and improving morbidity

We also need more diagnostics to keep the country safe from the constant challenges of evolving infections – from the latest flu outbreak to bacteria such as e-coli O-157.

We also need you – the healthcare science workforce – to deliver the very specialist treatments that we are so good at pioneering. 

Healthcare scientists combine the research skills of pure scientists with the patient-focus of front line NHS staff.

And you have the collaborative skills we need, so often working with academic teams and companies large and small to deliver a track record of innovation that is the envy of the world.

Science and scientists already drive many of the advances made in medicine.  But I believe your role will become even more important in the coming years.

Clinical Leadership

It may sound odd coming from a Health Secretary, but I don’t believe I should be the one running the Health Service.  I’ve been responsible for health policy, first in opposition and now in government, for many years now. 

I have met with and listened to countless doctors, nurses, healthcare scientists and other healthcare professionals.  I am passionately committed to the NHS and like to think that I have a deeper understanding of it than most of my colleagues. 

But I’m not a clinician. 

When it comes to making decisions about how to improve services for COPD or asthma, how to reduce emergency hospital admissions or to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, I have little to add.  So how ridiculous that I am the one in charge.

I think that the role of the Health Secretary should be to set the strategic direction for the Health Service, to focus it on achieving what matters most for patients – health outcomes – and then holding it to account for those outcomes.

It should be the health professionals themselves who lead the NHS from within.  I want to leave the NHS to get on with delivering better healthcare as only it know how.

As General Patton once said, “Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

And so, even before the Health Bill makes its way through Parliament, real power is shifting away from Whitehall and down to the front line. 

Down to clinicians who will lead on designing and commissioning local health services, and down to providers free to run themselves in a way that they feel can best improve care for patients.

This process, of devolving responsibility to the lowest level will, I believe, unleash an explosion of creativity and innovation.  And it is a process in which scientists will play a big part.

This is why of the regional networks, led by a Senior Lead Scientist and working closely with Sue as Chief Scientific Officer, are so important.  They will help to ensure that healthcare scientists have a clear voice, build strong links within their local communities and engage with GPs and other clinical colleagues at a local level. 

They will help to make sure that your skills, your abilitiesyou’re your experience help shape the new NHS.

Clinical Commissioning

General Practice-led commissioning is not about GPs making all the decisions.  It’s about clinicians of all sorts coming together to decide the best way of dealing with particular health problems. 

Decisions will be made locally about how best to design, organise and improve services.  These decisions won’t be as clinically robust if healthcare scientists are left out of the loop.

You can add tremendous value when it comes to local commissioning decisions.

This is another area where your knowledge, expertise and application can add real value to local commissioning decisions.

The Audiology report, ‘Shaping the Future’, launched later at this conference, shows how scientists – keeping a strong focus on the patient – can help to redesign pathways to increase the quality of care and experience for patients while delivering efficiencies for the NHS .

This work shows how delivering care closer to home, delivering services in the community and delivering new models of care, such as direct access to healthcare scientist-led clinics, can transform the quality of services to patients.

Likewise the work that will be presented here on improving cytology services, reducing turnaround times to just two weeks, is a massive step forward in the quality of care that women can expect to receive, while at the same time delivering efficiencies in the service

I've asked Sue, as Chief Scientific Officer, to work with the emerging consortia to help them to better understand and unlock the true potential of diagnostics and scientific services.  And I am sure that you will all be supporting this work locally  

Providers

But as you know, commissioning is only one part of our plans to modernise the Health Service.  We will also open out the provision of healthcare to any willing provider.

Now I know that some of you worry that any willing provider is shorthand for private companies coming in and doing everything on the cheap.  Undercutting the NHS and delivering poorer quality care for patients.  This just isn’t the case.

Any willing provider means that different providers – from the NHS, the independent sector or social enterprises, will compete against each other on the quality of the service they can offer. 

Locally or nationally, the prices are fixed.  One organisation cannot undercut another, because everyone will get paid the same pre-determined amount.  The only way to differentiate yourself will be to do a better job that of your rivals.

Any willing provider is not a race to the bottom on price, but a race to the top on quality.  And healthcare scientists will be essential in this race – you focus on quality through your training, your culture and through the way you deliver in practice.  You will be an important part of measuring and monitoring that quality for the commissioning of NHS services.

And you will be equally as important within individual providers.  The Health Bill will grant hospitals the freedoms they need to innovate and improve without the bureaucratic roadblocks of PCTs and SHAs breathing down your necks.

If you, your department or your team has an idea for how you can deliver better patient care, how you can work more efficiently, how you can improve health outcomes, then you will can go ahead and do it.  You will be free to innovate, to use you skills and your imagination for the benefit of patients.

Leadership

These changes more than anything else, require leadership.  They require people to stand up and be counted.  People like you.

Everyone in this room has something they can bring to the table.  Be it expertise, experience or new ideas.  But it will be wasted if do not join in.

So where local commissioning decisions are being made, make sure you are part of that conversation. 

If you’re based in a hospital, make sure your ideas for how to improve the service you provide are heard.  Knock on doors.  Don’t be afraid to make a nuisance of yourselves, you’re just the sort of nuisance the NHS needs!
Spin Outs

And if you have an idea that you are passionate about and that you think could be of real benefit to the whole of the NHS, why not think about doing what David Gow did. 

In 2002, David set up TouchBionics, the NHS’s first spin-out company.  As a medical engineer specialising in prosthetic limbs, he was frustrated at how the benefits of his advanced research were not helping many actual patients.  So he patented his ProDigits device and has now supplied hundreds of these to patients around the world.

This sort of thing is going to get an awful lot easier.  Especially as the way we pay for NHS services will move from being based around activity – how many of a particular named procedure you carry out – to one based on the overall quality of the outcome.

Currently, if there is not a tariff for a new procedure or a new piece of technology, then commissioners are less likely to pay for it.  But as we move to the new system, it doesn’t matter how you achieve a particular clinical outcome, only that you do. 

So if there is a new technology or new procedure or new approach that will lead to better results, or more cost effective results, then there will be nothing to stop it from being available throughout the NHS.

Science and engineering leading to new ideas and innovation resulting in better care for patients. 

When it happens, it’s brilliant.  I want it to happen all the time.

Research

But it’s not only on the front line that we need to see an increasing role for healthcare scientists.  Britain has long been recognised as a centre for scientific research and excellence.  And the future of our economy, let alone the future of the Health Service, depends on maintaining this reputation.

This workforce has a real focus on research and innovation, a strong patient focus and a desire to constantly improve quality.
Since 2008, the Chief Scientific Officer’s Research Fellowships, run in conjunction with the NIHR, have help to build the capacity and capability of health scientists, supporting the enormous potential within this professional group for the benefit of patients.

But I know there is so much more we can do.

Earlier this month, I announced £775 million of funding over 5 years through the NIHR to promote translational research and development. 

A major increase in resources dedicated to delivering, through science and discovery, major benefits for patients.

The funds will be available to any NHS/ university partnership, and collaboration with industry and charities will also be a central part of this. 

This money will drive innovation focussed upon some of our greatest health challenges – diseases such as dementia, cancer and heart disease.

This is a second wave of this funding.  In the past, it’s supported:

• new stem cell technologies to cure blindness by replacing damaged eye cells with healthy ones;
• the use of MRI scanners to diagnose autism with 85% accuracy; and
• a new blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

When you think of the measures we are having to take across government to put our public finances in order, I hope you will agree that this represents a tremendous commitment.  We really are putting our money where our mouth is.

And we have already made some real and meaningful progress, including:

• £20 million last year (2009/10) and this year (2010/11) to support the Regional Innovation Funds, which have generated nearly 2,000 applications this year with funds 10 times oversubscribed;
• The £2 million Challenge Prize Programme to reward ideas that tackle big health and social care challenges facing the NHS now and in future;
• The NHS Evidence website, full of easy to use, reliable and trustworthy clinical evidence;
• The 5 Academic Health Science Centres and the 17 Health Innovation and Education Clusters;
• The Legal Duty to promote innovation, helping to embed innovation as ‘core business’ for the NHS; and
• Over 8,500 delegates attended this year’s Healthcare Innovation Expo, the largest event of its type in Europe

Conclusion

This government is committed to science.  I am committed to science and science in health.  I want its intellectual rigour, its creativity and its insight to drive improvements in patient care.  To improve the NHS for the benefit of all. 

We are proving this commitment not only through the money we are investing – though that is considerable – but by giving you the power and the opportunity to use your expertise to improve patient care.

This is a real opportunity to make a difference.  An opportunity to fulfil your potential within your careers and within your organisations. 

But it will not be easy.  It will take strength and leadership.  It needs you to make the personal decision to get involved, to work with your fellow clinicians locally and to move your participation up to a higher level. 

As General Patton said, you know what needs to be done, now go out there and surprise me.

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