The NHS continues to face a multitude of pressures with Brexit generally serving only to compound and complicate matters. But looking beyond the alarming headlines and missed targets, there are exciting developments taking place across the health service that reflect an evolving shift in the nature of health service provision: a growing capability and focus on personalised medicine, including an emphasis on preventing disease and digitising the patient experience.

The 100,000 Genomes Project recently reached a milestone after sequencing 50,000 genomes. While the rate of interpretation and diagnosis may be slower than initially envisioned, the project will undoubtedly advance our understanding of genetic causes of disease, which will increasingly facilitate earlier diagnosis and ultimately disease prevention. Cancer has received particular attention, most recently embodied in new NHS funds to modernize radiotherapy equipment across England and establish Cancer Alliances to achieve earlier diagnosis through improved coordination of patient-centered care. The continued expansion of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships is just one programme, controversial as it may be, to spread personalised medicine and integrated care across disease areas in order to deliver better outcomes at the individual and population levels.

Encouragingly, NHS England has also released a new digital roadmap designed to accelerate the uptake of digital patient services, including “a new national citizen ID service, relaunching the NHS website, making the NHS apps library nationally-available and pilots for an electronic personal child health records.” Personalised medicine depends in part upon patient empowerment, which requires not only a cultural change but the supporting equipment. Smart phones, wearables, remote sensors and other digital health technologies are slowly (too slowly!) changing the relationship between patients and the NHS as well as patient understanding of what being ‘healthy’ means.

Home to a world-leading life sciences industry, the UK has at its fingertips a wide range of start-ups, SMEs and international corporations developing products and services to support this transformation process. Positive steps have already been taken, with the ambitious Life Sciences Sector Deal signed in December 2017 that will see significant co-investment in the sector as well as collaboration on common strategic goals. This could be an important moment for the life sciences industry with new opportunities for engagement and collaboration, all within a wider process of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health and care in the UK. It is now important that these encouraging words and commitments translate into action.

This is particularly true as a number of barriers to progress persist. The inherent challenges of a technologically-enabled health service include the secure collection and sharing of high-quality patient data with appropriate consent. The Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal brought this into sharp focus recently and highlights the public relations challenges that the NHS and industry face. With the NHS typically slow to embrace new technological approaches and public sensitivity around privacy and patient data, there remains the persistent risk that progress in the health service may not keep pace with scientific developments. This is further complicated by broader challenges such as the need to expand clinicial skills and education as well as better inform the public of technological developments and their implications.

It is critical that we overcome these challenges, but this is easier said than done.  As Sir John Bell has argued, it will require a collaborative effort between government, industry, the NHS and other stakeholders to ensure the UK provides a modern, digitised health service, organised around the patient and tailored to each individual. That is the future of healthcare and that is what’s at stake.

Save the date: Lexington is delighted that Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy will be the keynote speaker at our breakfast event on May 16th entitled, “The innovation challenge – getting new medicines and medical technologies to patients.” Please email Catriona MacMahon on for further details.