Doris-Ann Williams MBE, BIVDA CEO, discusses the impacts of the latest government budget for the diagnostics and life sciences sector
Last week’s budget was warmly welcomed by many in the UK IVD and life sciences sectors as the Chancellor announced a £5.9 billion package for NHS England. With the aim of clearing the care backlog, the package ensured there was an increased investment into health-related R&D and an expansion of the new Community Diagnostic Centre network.
An increase in community testing is incredibly important because we are currently trying to recover to pre-pandemic levels. This can’t come soon enough as the UK saw a significant decrease across all pathology testing areas starting in 2020. Testing for anaemia was down 29%, diabetes down 14%, and PSA prostate cancer was down 17%, among many others. This worrying downwards trend in testing could mean thousands are living with serious undiagnosed diseases. This is a clear concern and, if left unfixed, there could be a new health emergency on the horizon.
BIVDA has talked extensively in the past about the need for an expanded community testing rollout in this country. Launched in October, the Community Diagnostic Centre Network will increase test centres to 140 from the existing 40 – a significant and welcome increase. Millions of tests, scans and health checks are to be carried out in an effort to address the COVID-19 backlog. These sites will be close to peoples’ homes, such as in football stadiums, at dedicated retail outlets and shopping centres.
A robust community testing plan reduces the strain on hospitals and GPs, allowing them to focus on the ever-increasing backlog of surgeries and delayed procedures. But perhaps more importantly it puts the nation’s health first, a healthy public means a healthy NHS that are ready to treat serious diseases and illness as well as provide emergency medical care.
Who will see the funding?
While this money comes as a relief, it is important to recognise that it needs to be divided appropriately and be able to be accessed by those companies on the front lines of R&D for diagnostics.
In comparison to other OECD countries, England lags far behind the average for diagnostic scanners per million population, and with demand for diagnostics rising faster than that for NHS services as a whole, the need for major expansion is clear if the community diagnostics network is to be a success.
This Budget also includes a £5 billion investment in health-related research and development. If the vision of a true community diagnostics network is to be realised it is essential that IVD companies of all sizes can access this R&D funding. The need to develop novel diagnostics and bring them to market is essential in getting this scheme off the ground. Innovative new ways of testing that can save time, resources and manpower will be critical in making the network successful and not just a burden.
Access to funding must also be clearly signposted. While we don’t want a repeat of the heavily criticised Test & Trace rollout, this additional funding needs to make its way to the businesses who have worked tirelessly over the pandemic developing diagnostic tests that have helped the nation in combatting Covid. These businesses are at the frontline of innovation in the life sciences space and are a key backbone to supplying the NHS in England.
It is a relief to see such a funding package playing such a prominent role in this year’s budget. The backlog funding package will help the NHS to alleviate the heavy pressure being placed on the service as 5.7 million people await care.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said in the Budget that investment in NHS capital funding will support an objective to deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. This cannot be realised without a robust and well-supported IVD sector, the industry requires a strong manufacturing base, talented workforce, and a focus on innovation and sustainability.