Bridging the gap between an ageing population and advancements in the med-tech industry

Published: 19 May 2015

As the leading healthcare system in the world, the NHS is certainly a tough act to follow. Therefore shouldn’t the NHS be setting precedents when it comes to innovation and the adoption of new cutting-edge medical devices? These essential products improve patients’ lives and provide long-term cost savings. Yet the NHS can be seen as a difficult market to sell to, with complex procurement processes and multiple layers of decision making.

As diverse as the medical device sector is, the common theme is that these devices enable people to live longer, more productive lives, whilst significantly contributing to the economy. As an industry in Europe it employs over 540,000 people and has a market size of roughly €90 billion. Perhaps not always being as technical as they may seem, medical devices range from everyday items such as plasters and syringes to more specialised high tech devices such as pacemakers, artificial limbs and MRI scanners. In their many forms, medical devices are diagnosing, monitoring and treating virtually every disease or condition that affects us.

Advancements in medical technology have allowed physicians to better diagnose and treat their patients since the beginning of the professional practice of medicine. Thanks to the continuous development of technology in the medical field, countless lives have been saved and the overall quality of life continues to improve over time. Medical technology is also a key driver for economic well-being, providing quality employment, and a substantial contribution to the balance of trade. Around 8% of sales revenue generated from such devices is ploughed back into research and development, allowing for the creation of on-going lifesaving products.

The NHS is currently facing an extremely challenging time, with an increasingly elderly population, more people suffering from chronic conditions, significant unwarranted variations in quality and a tightening financial position. Although we are ageing as a population, life expectancy is improving at a steady pace, and since 1980 has increased by 6 years to 79 years in 2010. We are controversially spending less on adopting new medical technologies and products which are vital to support and sustain a healthy population. Compared to our neighbours in Europe we spend the second lowest amount on healthcare – just £2,008 per head, less than half the £5,017 spent in the US. In the healthcare industry the dependence on medical devices cannot be overstated, and as a result of the development of these brilliant innovations, healthcare practitioners can continue to find ways to improve their practice – from better diagnosis, surgical procedures, and improved patient care.

The difficulties for medical device manufacturers begin at the initial stages of adoption. There are issues in gaining market access and reimbursement, due to multiple layers of decision makers and over-complicated systems. Some of the many barriers of adoption include: regulatory compliance, technical standards, risk management, device validation and pricing. There is also currently a huge shortage of funding, making the adoption of new medical devices very difficult. In order to lead the way going forward, there is a clear need to find a way to bridge this gap, and invest in the future of essential new devices.

Despite the challenges faced for medical device adoption in the UK this continues to be a high-growth sector, and with this comes the expectation to maintain the industry standards of excellence. Recruiting intelligent, technically minded people is becoming increasingly challenging. Berwick Partners leads the way in recruiting senior leadership positions across both the Private and Public sectors regionally, nationally and internationally. Supporting organisations in making key appointments, which have a vitally important critical impact upon their business.

Clare Durr is a specialist recruiter operating within the Life Sciences and Medical Devices sector at Berwick Partners.

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