A new PM, a new approach?
What does Boris Johnson mean for healthcare innovators?
Finally, today, after a life time of ambition, Boris Johnson has been appointed as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. In the leadership campaign, Johnson bound himself to the pledge to take Britain out of the EU by 31st October, sought to rebuild his pro-business, populist credentials and – as is essential in any leadership campaign – highlighted the importance of ‘our NHS’. But away from the campaign trail and the activist pleasing bluster, what does a Boris Johnson premiership mean for healthcare innovators and what role can industry play in seeking to shape this agenda?
‘Supporting Our NHS’
Whilst Boris is often considered a different type of Conservative to his predecessors, it is likely that he will retain the same political instinct around the NHS: the desire to minimise it as a problematic issue, preventing the fallout from affecting electoral prospects. Expect a strategy which focuses on keeping the issue quiet, avoiding major reorganisations. Whilst we may see additional funding for large scale popular capital projects such as hospital refurbishment, these will likely follow the pattern of populist announcements rather than as part of wider system reform. Indeed, despite broad proclamations at hustings that the healthcare system needs reform it is unlikely that Johnson will seek to expend political capital to achieve this; avoiding conflict with healthcare professionals for the same reason. Johnson, a keen student of military history, will understand that the dangers of a ‘war on two fronts’ applies to politics too. It would be an extremely brave Prime Minister who chooses to force through a highly divisive Brexit settlement and attempts to reform the NHS against the backdrop of a hung parliament and a likely early General Election.
More worthy of discussion however, are Team Boris’s mooted plans for an insurance-based system to cover social care costs, with adults over a certain age contributing a proportion of their income to mitigate care bills. Indeed on the steps of Downing St, in his inaugural address, the new Prime Minister claimed he would fix the social care crisis. Of course, he isn’t the first to make that claim and the fabled political long grass is littered with the remains of discarded social care plans, however there now exists sufficient political incentive for Boris to tackle this difficult issue. His team are very conscious of the need to show that their candidate is about more than just Brexit and – like any new Prime Minister – they will be keen to define themselves in relation to the failures of their predecessor. Under Theresa May, the promised Social Care Green Paper never materialised, and the new administration will be aware of the significance of the new Prime Minister being seen to lead – and indeed solve – the thorny issue of social care.
Thus far in his career, life sciences hasn’t been a priority sector for our incoming Prime Minister. Whilst he paid tribute today to the importance of life sciences and flagged the potential of gene therapy, he has hardly mentioned the industry before this, apart from the traditional warm words during constituency visits. Therefore, to understand future intentions, it will be important to look at the key drivers which will motivate Boris and seek to align the industry message to this.
The first driver will be the need to move on from the infamous ‘f*** business’ comment from which he drew much criticism. Therefore now, adopting the zeal of a convert, Boris is trying to position himself as the “most pro-business PM ever”. Part of the narrative that Team Boris are trying to sell is that his record in City Hall demonstrates this approach and that this would continue into Government. It will therefore be important to engage his team in this context, highlighting how as Mayor he championed some notable life science projects, particularly the funding of Med City and the International Dementia Research Institute. Both of these projects were framed around bringing investment to London and the commercialisation of science and Team Boris will be susceptible to messages aligned to this, but adapted to a national level. His newly appointed business advisor Andrew Griffith – a former senior Sky Executive – will be a key figure to engage around this, highlighting how – to use Boris’s language – policy reform and greater access to innovation can help ‘throw off the shackles’ of the UK economy and to help drive a ‘global Britain’.
Brexit and ‘Global Britain’
Similarly, like everything in British politics at the moment, it will also be critical to consider the new PM’s approach to the Life Sciences industry within the context of Brexit. Boris’s political capital is tied to his ability to deliver and make a success of leaving the EU on 31st October and he will – to a large degree – view business engagement within the context of how they can help him to achieve this aim. Healthcare innovators should therefore look to present a vision for how we can be a leader in life sciences, AI and digital healthcare following Brexit, identifying the reforms that will enable this vision to take place.
The new Prime Minister will be announcing his new team over the next 24 hours and this will give further indication to his thinking on this issue. What is clear however is that healthcare innovators should be nimble to the interests and realities of the new Prime Minister. Failing to do so risks your message falling on deaf ears.
By Ed McRandal, Lexington’s Director and Deputy Head of Health