How can we can deepen the collaborative relationship between the NHS and the life sciences sector?

You might wonder why the Chief Medical Officer, perhaps more widely associated in the mainstream media with tackling the nation’s problems with alcohol and drug misuse, smoking and obesity, would want to speak to a conference promoting the Scottish life sciences sector. Well, the answer for me is fairly simple: it’s those wider interests, and my insights as a practising obstetrician, which make it very clear to me that addressing the demands facing our health service requires not only a renewed focus on tackling poor public health but also a concerted effort to embrace new ways of working across the NHS to free up health professionals’ time to work even more closely with patients and increase productivity. And it’s the latter where I feel strongly that more collaborative working between the NHS and industry could go further to serve the interests of the nation’s health and contribute to the country’s economic growth. So, in short, if we can secure a mutual win, why wouldn’t we want to use the NHS to help secure the Scottish Life Science Strategy’s objective of doubling the value of the sector between now and 2025?

That doesn’t mean that I want to turn the NHS into something it isn’t. In its 70th year, the NHS has to remain true to its core values and purpose as a publicly funded health system, free at the point of use and open to all. It can’t become a money making machine nor is it at any risk of privatisation. As it advances and embraces new developments, in partnership with industry or of its own accord, it will continue to be important that those developments have their roots in clinical need and improved patient care and outcomes.

So I want to use the conference to explore how, without detracting from the fundamental purpose and values of the NHS, we can deepen the collaborative relationship between the NHS and the life sciences sector to secure that mutual advantage. We have good foundations to build on: the NHS is innovation ready, with advantages of a “one Scotland” approach to R&D, world leading data and the benefits of the Community Heath Index; and through programmes like the Health Innovation Partnership (HIP) and the work of Scottish Health Innovations Ltd which already bring NHS and commercial innovators together. But I’m sure we can go further. So I’ll want to set out, among other things, what steps the Scottish Government is taking to develop the HIP further; to develop Test Beds to support health innovation partnerships between NHSS and industry on “combinatorial” innovation; and to ensure that NHS procurement practice, while meeting regulatory requirements, supports innovation.

Two key principles of success will be early engagement and honest dialogue. They underpin my wider approach to promoting Realistic Medicine in Scotland and they are equally valid in the context of collaboration between the NHS and industry. I’m looking forward to the conference as another step towards putting those principles into practice.


By Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland
Catherine will be speaking at our Life Sciences Conference on 12th November.

Get your tickets here.