Ministers will relax rules around clinical trials and streamline the approval of new medicines in a bid to maintain Britain’s competitiveness following Brexit.
No 10 has confirmed plans to bring forward a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to parliament to shore up the UK’s £74bn life-sciences industry as the UK leaves the European Union.
The new laws will be designed to create a “streamlined, internationally competitive” process for approving new drugs and devices to ensure that patients get the latest treatments. The government said its legislation would focus on “removing unnecessary bureaucracy” for low-risk clinical trials.
The proposals are aimed at mitigating the risk that Britain will fall behind other countries in access to drugs and medical technology if large multi-national pharmaceutical companies choose to test and roll out new inventions elsewhere.
The Queen’s Speech on Thursday included a raft of new measures for the health service, including plans to:
- Establish the world’s first independent patient-safety investigation body modelled on the Air Accidents Investigation Branch;
- Increase the number of NHS staff, other than doctors and some nurses, who can prescribe medicine;
- Ensure new medical examiners are appointed throughout England to carry out independent checks on dead bodies – medical examiners were first recommended by the inquiry into GP serial killer Harold Shipman;
- Reform the Mental Health Act to make it easier for people with learning disabilities and autism to be discharged from hospital and to give people more rights when being detained;
- Bring forward draft legislation to reform the NHS structure and remove competition law;
- Legislate for £33bn in NHS funding and a new NHS visa to make it easier for overseas staff to work in the health service.
The government said its life-sciences plans would “ensure our NHS and patients have faster access to the best innovative medicines while supporting the growth of the UK life-sciences sector to ensure we remain at the forefront of the global-life sciences industry”.
It said that the new approach would “allow the UK to take a leading role in global research to develop rapid diagnostics and advanced therapies and devices to provide transformational care for patients around the world after Brexit.”
The life-sciences sector includes pharmaceuticals, medical devices and medical technology and employs almost 250,000 people.
Last year, there were more than 950 clinical trials in the UK, with more than one million people taking part in research trials.
Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said it was vital to be “realistic” about what new funding for the NHS could deliver, adding: “‘Get Brexit done’ was Boris Johnson’s election campaign mantra but he must do this in a way that looks after the nation’s health and wellbeing.
“The government’s plan to add a new clause to the Brexit bill to rule out extension to the transition period beyond the end of next year will put significant pressure on negotiations.
“The short timescales to agree a future trade deal with the EU present a challenge, and a significant risk that the safety and health of patients and citizens could be overlooked during negotiations.”
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, criticised the lack of progress on social care. He said: “The additional £1 billion a year to give a short-term boost to social care services for both adults and children is not enough to meet rising demand for care while maintaining quality and accessibility of services.
“The prime minister is right to reach across party lines by seeking a cross-party consensus on social care reform but needs to honour his promise to ‘fix the social care crisis once and for all’ by bringing forward meaningful proposals for reform.”