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Who should healthtech SMEs speak to in the NHS?

28 November 2019 | Chris Wood  🔒
SMEs and start-ups with healthtech products with the potential to support our health and care system often do not know how best to approach the NHS. Chris Wood of UCLPartners’ Commercial & Innovation team provides a quick tour through the complex and changing NHS landscape.

The NHS is a major investor in science, technology and engineering in the UK. And with 121,900 employees, healthtech is the largest employer in the life sciences sector.

Yet despite the fact that the NHS, with its requirement for innovative tech, sits side by side with a vibrant #healthtech sector, it remains a challenge for healthtech SMEs to know how to approach the NHS – and who best to speak to about their products. This is because the NHS is not a lone entity but an arrangement of many financially independent parts, so there is no single entry point.

The NHS Long Term Plan, published earlier this year, ushered in new ways of working across systems, bringing organisations together in new ways and shifting budget holders, power bases, decision points and decision-making processes. It’s worth taking a moment to understand the new arrangements, which bodies hold budgets and procurement briefs, and which parts of the system to approach with your healthtech offerings.

First, let’s consider primary care: one of the sectors most impacted.

The most recent change to primary care has been the mandated creation of primary care networks – groups of general practices, typically covering 30,000–50,000 patients – in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Meanwhile GP federations (groups of GP practices providing commissioned services such as smoking cessation at scale) remain in place and hold purchasing powers. So should products intended for this sector be presented to individual GP practices, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), GP federations or primary care networks?

For now, your best route into primary care is through CCGs or GP federations as PCNs are co-ordinating bodies without purchasing powers.

And if your solution’s reach is system-wide, should you speak to a sustainability and transformation partnership (also known as a health and care partnership) or multiple CCGs?

Forty-four sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) were created in 2016 to coordinate care across entire health economies. STPs have no remit to procure but are mandated to become integrated care systems or ICSs (advanced local partnerships taking shared responsibility to improve the health and care system for their local populations) by April 2021. The leaders of integrated care systems (which already cover a third of the country) have greater freedoms to manage the operational and financial performance of services in their area. SMEs should consider approaching the ICS where an innovation has system-wide impact.

In the absence of an ICS, CCGs of varying sizes and internal structures have financial responsibility for their areas. Many CCGs will be merging over the next few years to gain economies of scale. CCG business functions are usually provided by commissioning support units (CSUs) which, varying in structure and approach, can be difficult to navigate.

In terms of structural changes and routes to procurement, the provider sector remains reasonably stable, apart from the new contract model. Providers are moving at least partially from the longstanding payment by results contract model (a system of national tariff prices for procedures and treatments, which commissioners use to pay hospitals for the work they do) to a new blended contract model in which the risk relating to the cost of service delivery is shared; this can impact on the way benefits are realised.

As you can see, it’s a complex landscape for healthtech SMEs and start-ups to navigate. The good news is that help is available, in the form of the AHSN Network Innovation Exchange, which aims to help innovators understand NHS challenges and connect them to the help they need.

Working as part of the AHSN Network, UCLPartners’ in-house team of commercial innovation experts can help SMEs understand how to launch their product to market and navigate the complexities of the NHS. This is part of an initiative funded by NHS England and the Office for Life Sciences to embrace innovation in healthcare and reduce the time it takes for new technologies to percolate through the NHS.

With backgrounds ranging from clinical practice and molecular biology through to NHS management, IT and commissioning, our healthtech experts are well placed to understand your products and advise on your NHS strategy.

Over 200 healthtech companies interacted with our team this year. More than 100 of them accessed our fully subsidised Market Insight Briefings in the last 12 months. And over 85 met with our commercial experts for 1:1 advice surgeries and bespoke support to develop their value propositions.

If you think that your business could benefit from our expert advice and insights, complete our company engagement form. Our team will review it and contact you with next steps.