What can we do to improve healthcare – not what obstacles can stop it?

Paul Gershlick

Matthew Arnold &amp, Baldwin LLP

So much good is done in healthcare.

There are many people who:

• contribute time and careers to providing healthcare (such as doctors and nurses),

• are involved with manufacturing drugs and medical devices,

• are in the supply chain for drugs and devices,

• help with research,

• raise money for cancer research,

• assist with aftercare,

• are consultants and other service providers.

The list goes on and on.

But as the costs rise, we need to be smarter about how we use our limited resources to pay for all the important people and products and services they supply.

Meanwhile, other challenges face the pharmaceutical industry, which has an uncertain future as big pharma stares at the patent cliff and the costs of bringing new drugs to market are escalating.

“…the Government announced that it would wish to see more NHS patient data available for clinical trials.”

Against this backdrop, the UK Government has recently come up with an innovative out-of-the-box approach. Instead of looking at the public sector (in the form of the National Health Service) and the private sector (in the form of everyone else who supplies to the NHS) separately, it is seeking to achieve a new approach that would work better for the NHS and the patients for whom it cares, as well as the private sector suppliers.

The UK Government published plans to achieve the endgame for the NHS of “working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world”. That is a very ambitious target.

Amongst various elements of its strategy to achieve this, the Government announced that it would wish to see more NHS patient data available for clinical trials. It wants to amend the NHS rules so that businesses conducting approved research can use data about NHS patients, and businesses can also approach patients who may be eligible to participate in clinical trials. The idea is to get treatments to patients quicker, and use the wonderful resource that is the NHS to escalate innovation which in turn will have more benefit for others too.

At the same time, the Government is keen to see the UK life science industry flourish as a centre of excellence. The industry employs tens of thousands of people and has a turnover of tens of billions of pounds a year. It is growing faster than the economy as a whole and has highly skilled jobs. A centre of excellence and initiatives that make the UK an attractive place in which to work and innovate could help to drive the UK economy forwards and create jobs.

The UK Government says that, to facilitate innovation, the NHS has to be the pull behind the industry’s push for therapeutic innovations.

So who can argue that these plans are wrong?

“The idea is to get treatments to patients quicker, and use the wonderful resource that is the NHS to escalate innovation which in turn will have more benefit for others too.”

Well, virtually as soon as the Government had announced its plans, objections were raised from people citing data protection laws as a reason to stop them. Big Brother Watch said it should be for patients to decide what happens with their medical information rather than governments. And Patient Concern went further and declared the initiative to be the “death of patient confidentiality”.

It is disconcerting to see data protection being used as an excuse to act as a problem, rather than it being applied in a common sense way so that a solution to the problem can be found. Of course, we should protect the confidentiality of patient data. But why not use aggregated patient data in a way that helps those patients, helps others and stimulates jobs and a better world?

It should not be a case of “there are data protection issues – this can’t go ahead”. Instead, the attitude should be “there are data protection issues that need to be considered and worked through to enable this great initiative to happen”. In short, solutions have to be found, rather than problems raised to stop an innovative idea.

The Government has made it clear all along that patient data supplied to private organisations will be anonymous so that any one individual will not be identified during the data sharing. If that is the case, why should privacy campaigners mind? UK (and EU) data protection law protects the data about people who can be identified from that and other data. But if the data is truly anonymised, people no longer have rights over “their” data, and nor should they. Privacy issues are no longer engaged if patients’ identities cannot be ascertained.

“Data protection, unfortunately, is one area of the law that is often cited as a reason not to do something…”

Too often, people see obstacles rather than work out a way for how we can achieve good. Government initiatives that challenge the status quo should be applauded. Any issue should be looked at as something to be overcome, rather than a reason not to do good. Data protection, unfortunately, is one area of the law that is often cited as a reason not to do something rather than something that needs to be properly respected while achieving another beneficial objective.

pharmaphorum’s motto is “Bringing healthcare together”. What better way than for the public and private sector to work together in this initiative to enable improved healthcare?

About the author:

Paul Gershlick is Partner at Matthew Arnold &amp, Baldwin LLP, he can be contacted using the details below:-

T: +44 (0)1923 208816

F: +44 (0)1923 215004

E: Paul.Gershlick@mablaw.com

http://www.mablaw.com/category/sectors/pharmaceutical/

How can we bring healthcare together?