Purdah, Politics, Public Opinion, Projects, Progress… Our National Passion for the health & life sciences

With an election upcoming on May 7, we have entered the approximately six-week period that we quaintly call “purdah”.  For many, the word is a mystery.  It can have the following definitions:

1) “ the practice among women in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of living in a separate room or behind a curtain, or of dressing in all-enveloping clothes, in order to stay out of the sight of men or strangers ”  2) “a curtain used for screening off women” 3) “a state of seclusion or secrecy”

Much as I might rush to affix the first two definitions to our political elite, the third definition best applies – a period when the government is essentially disbanded and politicians in the former government (in this case The Coalition) are barred from making policy pronouncements.  While some announcements are rushed through at the death, for example news that GSK and UK government agree meningitis B vaccine deal , others are conveniently shelved until the dust settles after the May 7th Election.

The general consensus is that this election will be a close-run affair with various possible permutations and potential coalitions arising. Manifestos have been published by the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP, SNP parties.

Healthcare and the future of the NHS are hot topics.  A new poll of 1800 adults by Ipsos MORI for think-tank the Health Foundation found that 85% of respondents felt that the NHS should be protected from spending cuts, reflecting a much stronger feeling than other public services such as schools, elderly care and defence.  Furthermore, almost 60% of the UK public support raising taxes to fund NHS  .

Our country faces issues similar to those of other health systems globally, due to aging populations, a downward trend in birth rates, a diminishing proportion of the population in the work force, and increasing numbers of people needing long-term care.  Tackling these challenges involves high and low tech solutions, and a focus on actively testing, adopting and diffusing innovation. To that end, work is underway across the UK, involving industry, our universities, the NHS, research councils, National Institute for Health Research, NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI),  our 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), the Francis Crick Centre (under construction in central London), and a broad array of medical charities. Projects include the 100,000 Genome Project, Cell Therapy and Precision Medicine Catapults, NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units, NIHR BioResource , Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres, UK Biobank, the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), and many, many more.

These initiatives have been enabled by support from successive governments putting the health and life sciences at the top of the agenda.  In enlightened manner, the Labour government of Gordon Brown enabled the creation of the Office for Life Sciences under the brilliant stewardship of Lord Drayson.  The more recent Coalition took the bold step of creating a first-ever Minister for Life Sciences in George Freeman.  These steps, along with a host of other initiatives, have helped to create the level of dialogue and joined-up thinking that will be needed to address the aforementioned challenges.  Yet the long-term nature of medical research really mandates strategies that are not confined by five-year funding cycles driven by elections.  There is cross-party support for such research, so the chances are good that medical research will stay in the cross-hairs.

Whoever ends up seizing power in the upcoming election clearly must maintain momentum. Indeed we would encourage even greater urgency in order to address the huge challenges facing health systems, to build public support for the use of patient data to improve care and fuel research, and to further cement the UK’s status as a thought leader and essential destination in 21st Century Healthcare.  So, rather than a quiet summer, we’re hoping for a post-election whirlwind of activity.

As an apolitical entity, BELS takes no political party stance, but going forward we do hope for continued, vigilant focus on the health and life sciences as drivers of our economy, which involves expanding the UK’s reputation as a global leader in the sector. This is one effort to which the BELS community has much to contribute as our members are products of the UK education system, cogs in the global life science arena, and are proudly considered to be extensions of this thriving UK sector.

BELS is beckoning expat life science leaders from the greater Oxford region to  The Alumni Summit, an exclusive, elite, invite-only event taking place July 8-10 at the Saïd Business School, Oxford University. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

For more information about BELS and recent news in the UK life science sector, please visit our website www.belsgroup.com

Best regards

Nigel Gaymond

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