For healthcare policy, a Tory majority brings clarity, continuity and the potential for greater innovation… but we should remain cautious
by Abigail Bishop-Laggett
A reflection on what the Brexit General Election means for healthcare policy
Early analysis was right – this was the Brexit election – and Boris Johnson has won the public’s trust through his repeated promise to ‘get Brexit done’, taking seats across the so-called ‘Red Wall’ which for so long looked impenetrable for the Tories. For the healthcare sector, we can now safely assume an end to Brexit uncertainty in the short term, as we will leave the European Union at the end of January 2020. Whilst the possibility of no deal or a hard Brexit further down the line remains very much on the table, there is some sense of direction. For now.
Beyond Brexit, the substantial majority for the Conservatives last night will bring some much-needed continuity and clarity for the health sector. A lack of any significant losses for the Conservatives means that no Health Ministers have lost their seats and Cabinet roles are likely to remain stable for the time being, whilst Johnson focuses on delivering the Withdrawal Bill. Matt Hancock, an advocate for the use of AI and data in healthcare, looks set to remain as Health Secretary and alongside him a continued focus on digital innovations. Companies in this space should look to capitalise on this quickly, engaging with the Health Secretary to influence Government activity in its first 100 days – now that it has much greater freedom. It is also very likely that Hancock’s Special Advisers will remain in post, which is also important for ensuring continuity.
The strong majority means the Government will finally have the ability – and legislative time – to deliver domestic policy outside of Brexit, and this alone is good news for business and the healthcare sector, which has been undermined by political paralysis for too long. Johnson will be under pressure to ensure Conservative Manifesto commitments now become a reality, including legislation to enshrine in law the “fully funded, long-term NHS plan”, continued NHS funding increases and the new £500m Innovative Medicines Fund to replace the Cancer Drugs Fund. These are all in essence positive for the health sector and the move away from austerity bodes well, providing multiple avenues to engage on supporting the development and delivery of these pledges and policy areas.
And yet, caution is still needed. With a large majority, it is not clear what direction a Boris Johnson Government will take and which sectors will be prioritised. This is underlined by the manifesto which was short on detail – and intentionally so. The shift towards a populist Conservative Party and away from their traditional base also increases risks for businesses looking to work closely with the Government. There are no guarantees which companies will be favoured by a Downing Street operation headed up by Dominic Cummings and the former Vote Leave team.
At the same time, while a defeat for Labour means threats around nationalisation and crown licensing in medicines are no longer immediate concerns, life sciences companies in particular must remain prepared for scrutiny. The politics of new trade deals will now dominate political discourse, with parliament and the public keeping a close eye on how this develops after claims of NHS privatisation achieved real cut-through during the election campaign.
The emphatic Conservative win certainly provides multiple routes for healthcare companies to engage with policy makers. As a minimum, the Party must now show voters that they were right – meeting the funding promises in the Manifesto and improving NHS standards will be a priority. The health sector has the opportunity to be a partner in helping the Government to achieve its aims, but must also use this opportunity to push for greater innovation in the NHS, whilst preparing for even greater public scrutiny.