A high profile Lords Committee has produced a damning report that draws into serious question the Government’s commitment to the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (LSIS). As Decideum noted at the time of the publication of the Life Sciences Sector Deal, government accountability, and in particular ownership of the strategy by the department of health, was lacking and potentially wholly undermining of Sir John Bell’s original good work. This new report finds that in relation to implementing the LSIS there is ‘a lack of clear authority and accountability and a failure to engage the NHS effectively. In its turn, the NHS’s commitment to the strategy has so far been incoherent, uncoordinated and ineffective.’
When Sir John and his team published the LSIS last August, the direction of travel was broadly promising, but much clearly would rest on implementation and delivery. Lord Patel’s Science & Technology Committee duly commenced 18 months of inquiry to look into whether the Government had the necessary structures in place to support the life sciences sector and to assess the NHS’s role in the process.
What has transpired is regrettably an all too familiar story.
The recommendations set out in the Lords Committee’s report published on 26 April (analysed in further detail in our note) are borne out of two central concerns that threaten to undermine the ambitions set out by LSIS.
The first – the Government’s failure to establish a clear, accountable structure that will oversee and implement the central provisions of LSIS and second – the fitness of the NHS to act as a conduit for innovation.
The Committee’s evidence sessions often reached a point of near-comedy, as Committee members were left frustrated in their attempts to decipher who was accountable for which process, all amid a sea of finger pointing between Government, NHS and industry as to who was to blame for the current pressures facing healthcare in the UK. This left Commitee members deeply worried that the level of organisation and collaboration required to carry out a project of this magnitude, will never be met.
As such, the Committee makes some interesting recommendations around oversight and implementation, calling for example for the establishment of an Office for Industrial Strategy.
There are also ringing endorsements in this report, with particular commendation of the Government’s 2.4% of GDP R&D funding commitment. It expects the Government to consult widely and then return with a detailed plan on how this money will be channeled into the sector. Also receiving significant praise are Patient Capital Review plans, which promise to relax the rules on pension money allocations for the purpose of greater long term life sciences funding.
This could be a game changer for the industry, and demonstrates that the potential for concrete reform and innovation is there.
And yet when we are presented with the author of the report himself, utilising his oral evidence session to state unequivocally that he had “never seen the NHS in so difficult a state” – the case for optimism becomes brittle.
We look forward to the Government’s official response in the coming weeks.
Read our detailed analysis of the Science & Technology Committee’s new report here