New UK leader for ‘Innovation, Growth and Technology’

The UK government has announced the creation of a new Director General for Innovation, Growth and Technology within the Department of Health.

The new Director General would be a post for a civil servant, which would mean that the Department of Health (DH) would have a senior figure overseeing innovation, growth and technology regardless of who is in government.

News of the post emerged in a keynote speech made by health minister Lord Howe at the ABPI’s annual conference last Thursday.

The new Director General post is due to be filled later this summer, and the new leader will oversee the Medicines, Pharmacy, and Industry Division. The appointment is intended to strengthen the Government’s focus on the innovation growth and technology agenda and strengthen the Department’s capacity in this area.

Una O’Brien is the DH’s Permanent Secretary, the top civil servant role with the responsibility for leading the department and advising ministers on strategy and objectives. The new Director General will report to her, but is likely to be given autonomy to work directly with business leaders.

The dual roles of the Department of Health

The Department of Health has for many years had dual – and sometimes conflicting objectives – of overseeing the health of the NHS whilst also nurturing the UK’s pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

This means health ministers and their civil servant counterparts must keep an eye on NHS finances, while also promoting uptake of innovation and new technologies – and indeed growth of the life sciences sector.

There has been increasing belief that adoption of innovation and new technology can help improve the NHS, rather than threaten its budgets, and the new appointment looks likely to promote that drive further.

Nevertheless, it is clear that NHS budgets remain extremely tight, with the new PPRS pricing system introduced in January this year including a guarantee of very low growth in medicines spending over the next five years. Another key policy the industry is hanging its hopes on is Innovation, Health and Wealth, a strategy led by NHS England aimed at integrating innovation into the practices and culture of the health service.

Commenting on the announcement, ABPI Chief Executive Stephen Whitehead said:

“I am very pleased that through the creation of this new post the Department is making innovation and growth a higher priority. When the strategy for UK Life Sciences was published in December 2011, the Government made a commitment to make the UK a global leader in the life sciences sector, and earlier this year the ABPI called on the Government to provide greater leadership and accept a growing accountability in the development of the life sciences sector. This appointment will contribute to meeting these objectives.

“I hope that this appointment will lead to an increased focus on delivering the Innovation Health and Wealth agenda, ensuring that the health system in the UK is a hotbed of innovation and growth, concluded Whitehead. “The pharmaceutical industry is committed to play its part in defining the next steps and working together with government as they strengthen their focus on this important agenda”.

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