Clinical partnerships: A lifeline for the national health service?


With the NHS currently facing some of its greatest challenges in a 70-year history, clinical trials for new treatments and technologies could provide the solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems: endless surgery waiting lists, bed-blocking, and clinicians and nurses stretched to their limit. Do public-private partnerships between the NHS and med-tech developers hold the key? Bernard Ross, CEO of Sky Medical Technology, discusses how the pharmaceutical and biotech industry must prioritise its clinical partnerships, taking a clinician-first approach when supporting the doctors, nurses and Trusts embarking on trials, whilst balancing the needs of key stakeholders and strategic partnerships

Successful outcomes in device development and the development of clinical and health economic benefits rely heavily on the strong partnerships between clinicians and med-tech developers, with both parties committed to improving outcomes for patients. It’s the clinicians that embrace innovation and that are forward thinking that must be championed. Collaborating with those willing to invest in and introduce evidence-based therapies, to simplify treatments, will help build a much more robust health system that is moving forward rather than stuck in its tracks under strain.

2018 marked the NHS’s 70th birthday, and as the British institution celebrated seventy years of service, the general public rushed to express their gratitude; from cradle to grave, the NHS was hailed for its care for every citizen, no matter their condition, circumstance or means.

Though a source of national pride, it is difficult to ignore that after seven decades, the NHS now faces some of its greatest challenges yet. As the British population grows and ages, the institution must contend with evolving crises in care and funding. For years, the NHS has rallied for a much-needed extended budget, to increase support for the clinicians and nurses stretched to their limit and combat ever-growing demand to services, which can have knock on effects of bed-blocking and lengthy surgery waiting lists.

Working together

While the case for further funding is clear, the NHS itself recognises that innovative solutions are vital to achieve its ambitions. Could external partnerships with some of the world’s leading medtech developers hold the key to battling certain problems and sources of frustration within UK healthcare? The common goal is clear: clinicians, funding bodies and medtech developers are committed to improving outcomes for patients, whether it’s through new treatments, tech to support patient treatments, or reducing GP waiting lists.

This means the institution must strike a careful balance between recognising the need for innovative solutions to ease cost-pressures, whilst still building a strong case calling for further government funding. For med-tech manufacturers, respecting this balance is crucial when partnering with NHS Trusts and hospitals to introduce potentially game-changing tech into clinical use. 

Planning for the future

The Five Year Forward View, a plan to cover all aspects of improving the NHS, includes intentions to ‘harness technology and innovation’. As well as improving patient access to care through apps and digitising its hospitals, the plan outlines the NHS’ support of the UK’s booming life-science industry, noting that many healthcare technologies we take for granted today – vaccines, MRI scanners – were originally nurtured in British universities.

The NHS commitment to harnessing technology and innovation includes such schemes as the National Clinical Entrepreneurs Programme and the Innovation Accelerator, both supporting the quick and safe adoption of innovations within NHS Trusts. These schemes have enjoyed significant success in allowing clinicians to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations during their training period, and in turn developed close relationships between young UK-based med-tech companies and the NHS.

These relationships will be key for our health service going forward, as the ability of clinicians, funding bodies and med-tech developers to collaborate are crucial to the innovation process.

In practice

The need for openness to and support for new medical technology is apparent; introducing new technologies and devices into the NHS is not quite as straightforward as it seems.

The NHS prides itself on safe, effective patient care, and due diligence is rightfully taken when introducing new treatments and devices into the health service. Most device manufacturers will be familiar with NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – guidelines, specifically its assessment of health technologies within the NHS.

Clinical trials are a vital part of bringing in new tech, and, done well, they should involve the collaboration of multiple parties; device developers, funding bodies, clinicians, nurses, to name a few. Whilst all share that same common goal – improving patient outcomes – each party faces separate pressures.

For the clinicians, it is ensuring the use of a device truly supports positive patient outcomes, for the funding body, the results must clearly demonstrate the economic benefit of the device for the clinical application being trialled. For the device development company, then, the focus must be on the clinicians and NHS Trust involved, ensuring the pressures they face are met and supported at every stage. Get this clinician-first approach right, and the potential to do good is huge.

The rise of medtech

Medtech is one of the spaces demonstrating a real appetite to improve patient care and efficiencies. According to the National Institute for Health Research’s report on developing medical technologies for the NHS, the scale of medtech activity in the UK is substantial; it is a £17bn industry that employs over 75,000 people with expectations it will grow even further. The UK is currently at the forefront of medical innovation, exporting its expertise on the global stage; this needs to be an opportunity seized by the NHS.

There are a number of clinicians making headway in achieving this already, actively developing productive partnerships with industry leaders to get new innovations into NHS hospitals. In our own experience, we are enjoying strong relationships with a rapidly growing number of clinical partners that are keen to collaborate to get to grips with products that improve the health service.

For example, we are currently working with clinicians at places such as the NHS Royal Stoke University Hospital, Welsh Wound Innovation Centre, and James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, where we have the pleasure of working with clinical teams that are eager to embrace and evaluate innovation, and this has generated clinical and health economic data we can share widely across the NHS and internationally. For example, the results from a study, at the James Cook Hospital, to determine the reduction of pre-operative oedema in ankle fracture patients showed a two-day improvement in readiness for theatre, and average cost savings of £569 per patient. These results could not have been achieved without close-up partnership with the lead clinicians.

This all comes down to knowledge transfers between clinicians and industry players, clinicians on the ground know their patients and the most pressing problems at play, and the UK med-tech industry has the means to refine and tailor their product solutions. Through a more open dialogue and interaction between the two, the NHS can only benefit.

Bernard Ross


The UK medtech industry may well hold the key to solving many of the critical issues the NHS is currently facing, and the realisation of these solutions depends on enhancing the relationship between clinicians and industry heads.

Schemes such as the NHS Innovation Accelerator, Clinical Entrepreneurs program and the Innovation and Technology Payment (ITP) are heading in the right direction, as they indicate what can be achieved through proactive partnership. At their centre, is a clinician-first approach – and there is clear evidence to indicate clinicians want to be at the forefront of implementing game-changing innovations. As the NHS looks towards the next 70 years – this approach will have a great part to play in determining how the much-loved health service will look in the future.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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