NHS is 'missing a trick' by opting for cheaper treatment options, report warns

Medical Technology Group research calls for debate around NHS rationing as it is revealed half a billion pounds could be saved if longer-term view to procurement is taken

The high upfront cost of innovative new medical technologies is limiting patient access and creating a false economy in which the NHS is plumping for cheaper, less-effective solutions.

This claim is made in a new report by the Medical Technology Group (MTG).

Medical technology has an enormous impact, both in terms of the quality of life that it offers patients and in the cost savings to the health service and the wider economy

Entitled Keeping Britain Working - How medical technology can help reduce the cost of ill health to the UK economy; the report concludes that £476m in savings could be generated from the use of eight novel technologies through reduced long-term health costs and benefit payments.

If that money was put back into the NHS it would pay for 20,000 nurses or 10.5 million GP visits.

Barbara Harpham, chairman of the Medical Technology Group, said of the findings: “Medical technology has an enormous impact, both in terms of the quality of life that it offers patients and in the cost savings to the health service and the wider economy.

“Very often a single procedure can get a patient back to work or caring for their family and can instantly eliminate thousands of pounds in longer-term treatment or unplanned admissions. In fact, we have not yet tapped into the full potential of all the medical technology currently available.”

But she warned: “The trouble is that the upfront cost of medical technology often means patient access is being limited and cheaper short-term solutions being chosen; in other words, a false economy.

“With the NHS budget under increasing pressure, it’s time we rethink the approach to rationing medical treatments that gives people back their lives.

“It may look good on paper in this budget year, but doesn’t benefit patients and costs the health service more in the long run.”

The report shows that just over a fifth of the projected savings (22%) comes from coronary angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary interventions, or PCI.

The trouble is that the upfront cost of medical technology often means patient access is being limited and cheaper short-term solutions being chosen; in other words, a false economy

Almost 100,000 (96,143) PCI procedures were carried out in 2015, with 36% in people aged below 60.

As 93% of patients in employment return to the workplace after a PCI, this means that 32,456 patients became economically active again.

When multiplied by the cost of Jobseeker’s Allowance – at £3,801 a year – the savings in benefits alone are £123.3m a year. This is replicated every year for the rest of a patient’s working life.

PCI is one of eight areas highlighted in the report to illustrate the value that medical technology delivers and its potential to help the NHS balance its books.

The study also examined data for hip replacements; implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs); insulin pumps; diagnostics, including sepsis; fibroid embolisation; pain management; and wound care.

The MTG report builds on data from a study by the Work Foundation in 2011. The research concluded that the UK economy saved £90m year by using three medical technologies: hip replacements; insulin pumps; and ICDs.

Other findings from the MTG’s 2017 report include:

  • 18,500 people are currently in work thanks to hip replacements, saving the UK economy £70m a year
  • £3m a year is saved by patients returning to work with an ICD. If the rate of implants in the UK were equivalent to the European average, the saving would increase to £4.3m
  • Insulin pumps save the UK economy £13.8m a year by enabling people with diabetes to manage their condition more effectively and give them the freedom to work and lead active lives
  • Giving greater access to fibroid embolisation, which can avoid a more-invasive and traumatic hysterectomy, could deliver £76m a year in savings
  • 1,000 people could return to work with a Spinal Cord Stimulator to help them manage chronic pain, delivering annual savings of £3.8m
  • Better management of chronic wounds can help patients and deliver £25.3m in savings per year
  • £160m of savings could be achieved and 11,000 lives saved by using rapid diagnosis to screen patients with suspected sepsis

MTG is now calling for a debate on the approach to the uptake and use of medical technology, and is calling for the NHS to:

  • Consider all the evidence acknowledging the wider societal benefits of medical technology and the value of returning patients to work and living independently
  • Communicate the benefits, increasing patient awareness and choice and aligning clinical practice with the benefits of technologies recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
  • Seize the opportunities, such as including formal reviews of technology in national standards and guidance, and rewarding long-term decision-making to improve health outcomes, and instilling long-term incentives to secure the recommended uptake

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