June 14, 2024

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How does general election ‘purdah’ impact key medtech projects?

Surprising the majority of Westminster watchers, and most of his own MPs, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has called a general election for 4th July and Parliament is ‘proroguing’ [dissolving] for the campaign period. This has implications for the operation of government departments and Ministers, and will impact several key medtech projects, though not, perhaps, as seriously as some might think.

As the Commons dissolves, there cease to be any Members of Parliament. There are now only parliamentary candidates, and there’s a huge rush in all political parties to fill the positions of hundreds of candidates to stand in constituencies where they had not yet been selected.

Government officials across the board go into ‘purdah’, cancel meetings with lobby groups, trade associations and businesses; and try to say nothing to the media that doesn’t go through carefully monitored and controlled press offices. The onus is on the civil service to say or do nothing that could be interpreted as a breach of political impartiality that might influence voting intentions one way or another.

Government Ministers, however, remain in post; and we can expect many policy announcements to be made according to a pre-determined grid. Those announcements won’t be in the Commons or at the Department HQ, they will be made out on the campaign trail at locations that illustrate the point being made. Expect health policy announcements outside and inside healthcare facilities, in medtech locations and in care homes. The photo-op is everything.

And we can expect spokespersons for all the major parties to laud their own commitment to the medtech sector and the value it can bring to healthcare in patient outcomes and cost efficiencies, and to the UK PLC in economic terms.

But what of the key medtech projects that were already in hand? Will work on the reform of Part IX of the Drug Tariff [the legal home for medical devices prescribable by the NHS] grind to halt? What about the ,new methodology for delivering value based procurement? What of the NICE Late Stage Assessments looking a the value delivered by a series of categories of device in improving patient outcomes? And what about the much-heralded review of the NHS’s Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) which assesses the effectiveness of a wide range of health apps?

Actually, whilst things on the outside might look quiet, on all the above projects work will continue. Sources tell me that having been commissioned, NICE will simply crack on with the Late Stage Assessments. Value based procurement, being a key priority for the Medtech Directorate of the DHSC, will be driven forward and the proposed new methodology will be updated and tweaked based upon the short feedback period that ended on 17th May – there will be a new version ready for roll-out in early July with real momentum to deliver early adoption.

The response to the consultation on the review of Part IX of the Drug Tariff may indeed be delayed from its anticipated ‘late May’ date, but given some of the concerns registered with officials about the lack of information made available in the consultation leading to uncertainty about its impact, a pause until early July may be a useful window to continue exchanges with officials, at least in terms of sending in comments to continue to influence the outcomes. Officials have certainly been listening, and have already hinted that they understood some, if not all, of industry’s concerns.

And on the review of DTACs, again, there’s no reason to expect that work on this won’t be continuing behind the scenes, with very little impact on the anticipated time-lines for the project about which I wrote recently.

Whoever forms the new government, it won’t look much like the current one, and there will be a shiny new team of ministers in key government departments dealing with health, social care, industry, technology, life sciences and trade. It will be a key time for the medtech sector to engage to encourage those new ministers, who may lack any experience of government, to make the choices that impact positively on the sector, and to avoid the options that would impose barriers to its success.

Exciting times and great opportunities for UK medtech!

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