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BHTA spring conference 2023: How the association is successfully lobbying on behalf of members and how tech innovation can address NHS challenges

Last Updated on 31/05/2023 by Sarah Sarsby

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On 11 May 2023, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) brought together key healthcare leaders and suppliers at its spring conference to discover how current policy decisions are shaping the future of health and social care, impacting UK patients, and what this change means for businesses.

The sell-out conference, ‘UK Health and Social Care Landscape: How will UK policy decisions impact patient experience?’, took place at the Manor Hotel in Meriden, Solihull and was sponsored by Verlingue.

It saw an impressive roster of senior government and sector leaders present engaging sessions throughout the day to suppliers about future policy directions, new UK Government priorities, and how collaboration and innovation will ultimately improve the patient experience.

Both BHTA member and non-member companies were invited to the conference to gain invaluable insights into the changing health and social care landscape, ask questions to the high-profile roster of speakers, and network with key stakeholders and peers.

Below are the highlights from the first set of morning presentations from David Stockdale, BHTA CEO; Steven Ferguson, Head of Market Access at IQVIA; and Paul Gaffney, Director of Tendo Consulting.

Topics covered in the first set of morning sessions included how the BHTA is ensuring its members’ voices are heard by government, the NHS’ readiness to adopt innovative technologies, and how the changing political landscape is impacting healthcare policy.

The remaining presentations from the conference will be shared on the BHTA website and social media over the coming days.

Opening address

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Kicking off the BHTA’s spring conference 2023 was the CEO, David Stockdale. After welcoming everyone to the event, David talked about how the association is striving to create, demonstrate, and deliver member value and underlined that membership is centred around what members want.  

He explained that a big part of the BHTA’s work is lobbying and advocating for members on important issues.

“We’ll hear from Tendo this morning, who we’re working with really closely in terms of developing our political muscle,” said David. “We’re able to advocate better on your behalf at the highest level to government, get your voices heard, and make sure that we’re representing the industry and really have that foothold in current and future government and in the key parts of the health and social care sectors as well.”

Some of the association’s key goals are to develop more activity within its sections and to improve communication with members internally and with key stakeholders externally.

He added: “We’re looking at how to develop and modernise the Code of Practice to ensure that it’s robust and right for the world we’re now operating, as online continues to develop and become a bigger part of what we’re doing across the sections.”

Healthcare market outlook for 2023-2024

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Next to present was Steven Ferguson, Head of Market Access at IQVIA, a global clinical research organisation that compiles data and insights.

A big focus of Steven’s presentation was around the NHS’ readiness to adopt firms’ innovative technology. Medtech spends approximately £9.5 billion of the NHS budget.

While acknowledging that technology can make the NHS more agile, he explained that the NHS is not always good at adopting new innovations. Steven noted that sometimes the NHS is not ready for new technology, so quick “plug and play” solutions are sometimes required.

Firms need to have an understanding of the whole pathway of care for their technology to add value to the NHS. Technologies should address unmet local needs and challenges at an integrated care system (ICS) level, rather than firms submitting solutions for challenges and needs that are already being met, he explained.

When submitting solutions to the NHS, firms need to collect data to build an evidence base. This will make it more likely for their technologies to be adopted, Steven highlighted.

He prompted suppliers to ask themselves whether their products help people stay out of hospital. This should be part of firms’ strategies based on NHS data showing that it is struggling with patient backlogs.

Another big part of Steven’s discussion was around the headwinds, crosswinds, and tailwinds for the life sciences sector for 2023-2024 and beyond.

Headwinds for firms include post-Brexit challenges, COVID disruption, NHS workforce issues, economic instability, access, and HTA challenges.

“We’ve got about seven million people on waiting lists, and that’s not getting better,” Steven underlined. “Again, anything that companies can do to address that will get people interested.

“The NHS workforce, we all know about that. There’s about 20 percent of the workforce that are no longer here. That’s not going to change; we won’t be able to recruit our way out of this. This is about using technology and innovation. Anything where you can talk about where your innovation adds value to make things smarter is going to get you an audience with the NHS and with your stakeholders.”

Crosswinds for firms include new policy issues, regional devolution, and the post-Brexit conformity assessment mark (UKCA).

Tailwinds for firms include population health management and health inequalities, the NHS digital transformation agenda, NICE HTA methods, NHS resourcing, and virtual care wards.

Steven also discussed integrated care systems (ICSs).

He said: “At IQVIA, we’ve been tracking ICSs for the last 18 months to two years, before they became legal entities and now they are legal entities. We’ve been tracking their performance around who is new and who has been established for a long time. They’re all at different levels of sophistication and governance, so when you start putting out value propositions and communications, what might work in one area might not work in another area. We see a targeted approach working better.

“With the companies that we work with, their strategies are based around where the ICSs have got strengths and problems. It’s about understanding at a local level what the key priorities and struggles are for that ICS.”

Political landscape and the implications for healthcare policy

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Paul Gaffney, Director of Tendo Consulting, was next to present. He discussed the changing political landscape and the implications for healthcare policy.

Paul explained that the Conservatives are losing seats in local elections but that the opposition is split quite equally between Labour and Liberal Democrats. This means that planning for BHTA requires building relationships with Labour and Liberal Democrats, as well as Conservatives, Paul said, because he believes it is likely there will be a coalition government at the next general election.

He underlined that the BHTA perspective and engagement when approaching the elections and UK Government should be focusing on immediate issues and headlines around cutting waiting lists, workforce pressures, and Brexit issues.

He added that cutting NHS waiting lists will be a major topic at the general election, alongside discussions around innovation within the NHS.

“The other issue that will come up at the general election is social care,” Paul stated. “Nobody has a solution to social care.”

With all of this political change and major issues in the health and social care sector, BHTA has been increasing its presence and voice in the political space in the last six months.

“One of the things we did very successfully were the Parliamentary drop-in events,” he said. “BHTA members in the room emailed their MPs. A lot of them turned up. As a consequence, a number of MPs were greeted by the BHTA who discussed what their key issues were. A lot of people were interested in the MHRA issue. There were a lot of figures from the Conservatives and Labour that came in. It shows that there is a space for that.”

Paul continued: “I’d like to draw your attention to a Conservative MP called Henry Smith, who is the MP for Crawley. He will be an advocate for you if you’ve taken him round your sites. He’s already tabled a number of questions and written to ministers. If you are willing to do it [constituency visits], that is probably one of the biggest tools we’ve got in our arsenal.”

He added that the BHTA, and its members, should start thinking about what it wants from government, articulating this, and ensuring that its wants are deliverable.

“All politics is local,” continued Paul. “We need to work with you [BHTA members] to get to the MPs and candidates that we think will be influential. We need to influence all of the parties, and all of the parties’ policies, to make sure that we are covered.”

The three key pillars of political engagement are explaining what the association wants and why, how much it costs, and what the MP or government gets from it – i.e., if it is a political win, he concluded.