Only by embracing new technology can the NHS adequately meet the unprecedented challenges it is facing, says Dan Jones.

The NHS trails behind other European healthcare systems in the provision of new and innovative treatments. The Government’s Accelerated Access Review (AAR) seeks to address this imbalance. If we are to close the NHS’ unprecedented £30 billion funding gap, it must succeed.

At its inception the review was aimed at speeding up access to innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics for NHS patients. The intention was to give patients access to new treatments, while providing a stimulus to the medical technology sector.

While the intentions of the initiative are good, they are not new.  As a recent report from the Medical Technology Group demonstrates, over the past ten years there have been 17 previous initiatives all with a similar purpose to the AAR.

In 2011 the Government published a strategy report, titled: ‘Innovation, Health and wealth’ (IHW). The strategy was aimed at ensuring the UK maintains and builds on its world leading position for life sciences, that the potential for life sciences to contribute to UK growth is realised, and that the UK remains an attractive location for investment now and in the future.

The report contained a wide range of recommendations and measures aimed at promoting innovation within the NHS. Unfortunately, five years on, there is little sign of change or any lasting impacts from the initiative. Today, IHW has been consigned to the ever mounting scrapheap of well-intentioned, but short-lived initiatives aimed at promoting innovative forms of patient care.

But the AAR cannot be allowed to follow the same path. The challenges facing the NHS are too great. It is vital the NHS learns from the failure of previous initiatives.

Crucially, implementers of the new initiative must work with the teams involved in implementing previous measures and understand why earlier plans failed to deliver.

The implementation of the AAR should also be coordinated with other initiatives. The NHS is already wrestling with the Carter Review, the Five Year Forward View and Sustainability and Transformation Plans. By adding yet another strategic report on top of these will not help. But embedding AAR work within existing plans and strategies will boost the chances of effective delivery.

It is also vital the Government makes a long term commitment to funding and maintaining the AAR, together with changes to NHS funding mechanisms and structures.

The NHS faces unprecedented challenges over the next two decades. No single health service has ever come under this much pressure. Addressing these challenges requires real change to the way services are delivered. The AAR can play a key role in this, but only if policymakers and NHS Leaders give it support and commitment.

This is a critical time for the NHS. The AAR must not become yet another footnote in the long list of failed NHS initiatives.

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