Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on Medicines and Medical Devices

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 2 March 2020.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

While the world grapples with the challenge of coronavirus, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the important long-term reforms that we must make. Medicines and medical devices are evolving faster than ever. Not long ago, we could only record an ECG with hospital-grade equipment; now we can do it at home with a cheap device linked to our phone. Already, artificial intelligence is being used to discover new drug compounds. Now that we have left the European Union, we need a regulatory system that is nimble enough to keep up with those developments while maintaining and enhancing patient safety. That is what this Bill will achieve.

The aims of the Bill are fourfold. First, it gives us the means to depart from EU rules and regulations in future, moving at a faster pace, if that is what we choose to do as an independent, self-governing nation. Secondly, it ensures that we can easily amend regulation through secondary legislation without having to bring a new Bill before the House every time we need to revise the rules. That means our system of regulation will be flexible and responsive, quick to adapt to innovation and quick to respond when a safety issue emerges. Thirdly, the Bill will strengthen patient safety by strengthening the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, our world-class medicines and medical devices regulator. That includes giving it powers that were not available under the EU, including over registration of devices and disclosure. Fourthly, the Bill will ensure that we strike the right balance between capturing the benefits of innovation without compromising patient safety.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

All those objectives of the Bill require a level of investment to bring about the innovations that we seek. The Prime Minister made a commitment of £200 million in September. How much private sector money does the Secretary of State expect that to leverage? What is our ambition?

Matt Hancock

We do not have a figure for medicines and medical devices specifically. As a nation, we have a goal that we should reach 2.4% of GDP spent on research. We are increasing the medical research budget; for instance, we are doubling the budget for research into dementia. As my right hon. Friend rightly points out, the public budget for research is only one part of it. There is huge private sector and charitable sector investment —for instance, from the Wellcome Trust. The Bill will allow research money—whether it comes from the public sector, private sector or third sector—to go further and get medicines and medical devices to NHS patients faster, as well as supporting our life sciences sector.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

I recognise the Secretary of State’s support for innovative medical technology. I am interested in the registers to which he referred, covered in section 13 of the Bill, and in particular the need to ensure that we get the maximum benefit without their being too onerous. Will he give an assurance that there will be some kind of consolidation where there are multiple registers in the same field and that we will only collect information that is specific to the subject stated for the registers?

​Matt Hancock

It is almost as though the hon. Gentleman has read my speech. That is the broad intent of that part of the Bill. I will come to it in more detail in a moment, and I am glad about the constructive tone that has been adopted across the House when discussing the Bill.

As I said, the fourth purpose of the Bill is to get innovation while not compromising patient safety—indeed, I would argue that we will enhance patient safety by being able to use modern techniques. It will do that by requiring the Secretary of State to have regard to the safety of medicines and medical devices; to the availability of medicines and devices, because sometimes getting availability as fast as possible is crucial for both innovation and patient safety; and to the attractiveness of the UK as a place to conduct clinical trials and bring medicines and medical devices to market. I will come on to clinical trials in more detail.

Let me turn to the main parts of the Bill. The first part, covering clauses 1 to 7, gives us the ability to update the law relating to human medicines—for example, to reflect changes in manufacturing methods or new types of product. We need that ability because coming down the track are cutting-edge personalised medicines that a hospital might literally have to assemble at the patient’s bedside. Those include gene therapies, medical gases and 3D-printed tablets—bespoke treatments so tailored to the individual that they will only be produced once, with a shelf life that might be measured in minutes. It is just not appropriate to regulate those kinds of treatment in the same way as a mass-produced factory drug, with mandatory batch numbers and packaging information. The Bill gives us the flexibility to respond to those developments. It also allows us to make changes to the regulation of clinical trials, ensuring that we are a globally attractive market to test new drugs and treatments.

But the Bill is not just about the latest science and innovation. It also means that we can update the rules on things such as labelling requirements—for instance, whether the leaflet in a pill packet should have a digital equivalent; rules on how online pharmacies ensure that medicines reach their intended customer; and rules on how the medicine brokerage market works.

We have said that we want to do more to boost the role of our brilliant community pharmacists, and the Bill helps us to do exactly that. It will allow us to remove the barriers to hub-and-spoke dispensing once EU rules no longer apply. Large companies such as Boots already do that, but the law as it stands prevents small, independent pharmacies from joining this kind of arrangement if the hub is not part of the same retail business as the spokes. That is an unnecessary barrier for smaller businesses in the pharmacy sector, and the Bill means that we can remove those barriers.

It also allows us to continue to add to the range of healthcare professionals who can prescribe medicines, which will relieve pressure on the frontline NHS, and it gives us the ability to make rapid changes to regulations to ensure the availability of and access to medicines in an emergency; I am sure we can all understand right now why that is important. Nothing in the Bill changes all the regulations immediately. Instead, it is about getting ahead of the game and giving us the power to make these changes as and when we need to, suitably scrutinised by Parliament.​
The next part of the Bill concerns veterinary medicines. It broadly replicates the first part, giving us the ability to amend or supplement the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013. Changes could include, for instance, how veterinary medicines are supplied and the information that must be supplied with them. It sets out that, in making new regulations, we have an obligation to consider the safety of the medicines in relation to animals, humans and the environment. These are important matters, not least for me as the Newmarket MP. The Bill will ensure that we have a veterinary medicine system that is fit for purpose.

The third part of the Bill deals with the medical devices regulatory framework, covering everything from MRI scanners to embolisation coils and pacemakers to prophylactics. Like the first part, it allows us to fast-track a new diagnostic test in response to an emerging disease.

Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)

Is this not an example of how, having left the EU, we can now move at a much faster pace on a lot of regulatory things that are really important to our constituents?

Matt Hancock

Yes, that is right. This Bill empowers us to be able to move faster. Essentially, it empowers the UK to build a life sciences regulatory framework that is the best in the world—of course, working with EU partners, but also with partners from right around the world—and all with the intention of getting the most innovative products, as quickly as possible and as cost-effectively as possible, into the NHS. That is the goal of the entire Bill. It is a benefit of Brexit, but it is also worth doing in its own right.

The measures to strengthen innovation with respect to diagnostic tests again strengthen patient safety, because they strengthen the role of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. This includes, for instance, allowing us to legislate to create a comprehensive statutory register of medical devices in the UK. Such a register could be held by the MHRA, and we would make it compulsory to register a device along with information such as who manufactures and supplies it. This would mean that the MHRA could conduct post-market surveillance of devices in the UK, making it easier to trigger device recalls where a safety concern arises.

Indeed, we will enhance patient safety by giving the MHRA a new power to disclose to members of the public any safety concerns about a device. This was not possible while we were part of the EU. Previously, if an NHS trust raised a concern about a device and asked if similar reports had been received elsewhere, too often the MHRA was restricted in sharing that information; nor could it always routinely share information with the Care Quality Commission or other NHS national bodies. This Bill gives us the ability to share vital information about reporting patterns with the NHS family, and where necessary with the public, with enforcement powers that will be proportionate, transparent and suitably safeguarded.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)

I do not recognise the Secretary of State’s description that it was not possible to inform NHS bodies of concerns about machinery or devices. In my 33 years on the ​frontline, we received daily information about anything that was considered a danger or a failing, so I do not recognise that.

Matt Hancock

In some cases it was possible to share that information but not in all cases, and it will be possible now. I have no doubt that the hon. Member, like others on the frontline, will have received some information, but the MHRA is currently limited in the information that it can share with other NHS bodies. We are removing the limits on that information sharing, which of course needs to be done appropriately, but should not be set in primary legislation.

Our goal is this: we want the UK to be the best place in the world to design and trial the latest medical innovations. This Bill gives us the powers we need to make that happen. It will mean that the NHS has access to the most cutting-edge medicines and medical devices, with enhanced patient safety; it will help our life sciences seize the enormous opportunities of the 2020s, supported by a world-leading regulator; and it will help us pave our way as a self-governing independent nation. I commend the Bill to the House.