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Making science work for health: a policy priority

Plan for success by investing in healthcare policy and programmes that will make science work for health

By Dr Philippa Brice  

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This article was produced in association with PHG Foundation

The pandemic has amply demonstrated the fundamental importance of science for health, both in driving medical advances and informing health policy decisions. 

For example, UK scientists are the leading contributors of Covid-19 genome sequences to the global databank, critical information used to direct surveillance, health protection measures, and the development of effective new vaccines around the world.

If our experiences over the last year have reminded us of the central importance of people and relationships in our lives, it has also underlined the incredible potential of science to help protect and sustain good health. As we look post-pandemic, we should consider not only urgent priorities for recovery, but also how science and technology should shape and support health and care into the future. Previous investment in science has put the UK in a good position, but these strengths must be appropriately harnessed to drive improvements in health.

Lessons from genomics

The UK is a global leader in genomics, thanks to a combination of scientific excellence and policy vision. This has included establishing the world’s first national genomic medicine service; linking this with major research initiatives such as Genomics England, the UK Biobank and Our Future Health; and supporting development of a vibrant commercial genomics sector. 

Release of the ten-year National Genomics Healthcare Strategy in 2020 is perhaps the pinnacle of these achievements. An ambitious and far-reaching plan to make the most of genomics for health, working alongside the NHS Long Term Plan, it looks to create a science-based system that can provide better health outcomes, for less money, through more effective disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Importantly, these aims are underpinned by practical policy measures to centre patient and public perspectives, combat health inequalities, engage the healthcare workforce and integrate effective frameworks to support both NHS implementation and
ongoing research.

Health policy essentials

Looking ahead, scientific research and innovation remains vital. However, bigger and better science alone will not maximise the benefits for health. Naturally, we cannot hope to make the most of science without properly resourced, efficient and well-organised healthcare systems that include not only major hospitals and centres but also public health networks, primary and community care services. Future policy must also ensure that there is sustainable alignment between supporting ongoing research and innovation, delivering the best care for citizens, and enabling the rapid uptake of new knowledge and tools in the NHS.

Experience in genomics has value for other emerging technologies with medical applications. These include creating trust and transparency through patient and public involvement; prioritising training and guidance for the clinical workforce to implement new tests and approaches; and providing supportive digital infrastructure and national leadership. 

Another policy imperative is proper clinical evaluation and robust regulation of emerging technologies and their medical applications. The 2021 National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) strategy provides an ideal approach to maintaining oversight of fast-moving science, looking to produce dynamic and data-driven guidance.

Focus on the future 

Whilst many of the biggest future challenges for health and care are clear, we don’t necessarily know yet which scientific advances will help us to meet them, nor which other challenges may emerge. We can, however, plan for success by investing in healthcare policy and programmes that will make science work for health, for everyone.

About the PHG Foundation

The PHG Foundation is a health policy think-tank with a focus on genomics and personalised medicine. Established in 1997 and now a linked exempt charity of the University of Cambridge, it examines the potential and implications of new science and technology for healthcare, offering policy ideas and solutions to help make great science deliver better health, faster.

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