Digital technologies have transformed the way we work, shop, and socialise and will continue to do so. UK Government has outlined the ambition to strengthen our position as a ’Global Science and Tech Superpower’ and the necessary digital strategy that is fundamental to economic future, growth, national security, productivity and the ability to compete globally. The UK starts with many of the critical building blocks of the digital economy, from super-fast internet connectivity to cybersecurity infrastructure and an academic sector that leads the world in fundamental and applied science. The UK already has the highest number of tech unicorns in Europe and in 2021 saw more private capital, £27.4 billion, flow into the tech sector than any other European country.
Increasingly digital technologies are being implemented in the NHS to support healthcare delivery, identify unmet needs, measure outcomes and shape clinical services. There is also the potential to manage demand for health and care services by engaging citizens in playing an active role in their care. This has led to a thriving Digital Health industrial sector in the UK, with well over 600 businesses employing 12,900 people and with a turnover of £1.7bn. Between 2010 to 2019, the segment has increased employment by 3,300 and turnover by £490m.
ABHI has an active Digital Health group focused on working with national organisations to ensure the UK maximises the opportunities for citizen health and economic wealth by investment in data-driven healthcare. Through our network with key health system organisations, we have provided industry input into policy development and implementation to help create the necessary infrastructure to support companies.
There are several factors that support the UK digital ecosystem. Firstly, of course, is the NHS, providing cradle-to-grave care, free at the point of delivery, to the UK’s diverse population of over 67m citizens. This provides the NHS with a critical data asset that has been valued at nearly £10bn per annum. When coupled with the clinical and academic excellence that can be found in the UK this data resource has the potential to provide an unrivalled resource for innovators and researchers. The UK already performs well in the secondary use of data with international benchmarking rating the UK the highest in regard to policy, infrastructure, equity and capability.
There is more to be done to support data driven innovation and the Department of Health and Care has recently published a new Data Strategy which promises to support innovators to develop and deliver new solutions quickly and safely. This will be achieved through a streamlined data governance process, a network of Trusted Research Environments and open standards, code, APIs and systems architecture.
In addition to the NHS the UK is home to internationally recognised regulators such as the MHRA, NICE and ICO. In a fast moving and safety critical environment such as Digital Health having an appropriate regulatory regime is vital. ABHI has been working with regulators to provide industry thinking on the emerging new UK regulatory regime following our exit from Europe. UK regulators are cooperating closely to align the regulations around product, data and clinical services, something ABHI called for in our Digital Regulation white paper, and increasingly taking an international approach to working with other regulators, particularly regarding Artificial Intelligence.
In such a dynamic sector keeping track of changes in policy, standards, processes and market changes can be difficult. Alongside our work on the policy agenda ABHI continues to support members with business intelligence, sign-posting and networking opportunities to ensure that they have the best information to input into their business planning.