UK Prime Minister unveils plans to reform NHS

UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday unveiled proposed changes to the NHS constitution to make every NHS recipient a "research patient" with their medical details "opened up" to private healthcare firms. In doing so, Cameron said that patients will be participating in research that he hopes will result in faster access to new treatments, transforming Britain's life sciences into a world leader. "Pressure on healthcare budgets in the West, emerging economies in the East, an ageing population, an explosion of knowledge - all creating a new paradigm for life sciences. And in this new paradigm, we must ensure that the UK stays ahead," Cameron warned.

Under the proposed plan, NHS records from hospitals and general practitioners would be made anonymous and available to life sciences companies. "It is simply a waste to have a health service like the NHS and not to do this kind of thing," he said, adding that "The most crucial, fundamental thing we're doing is opening up the NHS to new ideas.

In unveiling the plan, Cameron also confirmed the availability of a 180 million pound ($280 million) Biomedical Catalyst Fund that will be used to bring new drugs to market. Specifically, a portion of the fund will be made available to universities and small and medium-sized companies to help develop and commercialise medical breakthroughs, while "early access scheme" will allow seriously ill patients with advanced diseases to access new drugs up to a year before they are fully licensed.

Science minister David Willetts noted that currently, research funded by the Medical Research Council often sits in research institutes without being used to benefit patients. "Above all, there should be a very clear route from the idea in the publicly supported research lab, through to the application in the patient in the publicly-supported NHS. That is the way to get the businesses to grow for the future and, of course, it is the best thing for patients as well."

Critics, however, have expressed concern that the plan may compromise patient confidentiality, Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham noted that "the Prime Minister has to tread carefully. What he calls red tape others might see as essential safeguards. Some areas need proper regulation and patient records is certainly one of them." However, Neil Patel, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society remarked that "we need people to understand that the benefits for all of us - our children and people who have got illnesses - are absolutely essential when it comes to using health records for research."

GlaxoSmithKline called the government’s strategy a "very important next step on the journey to make the UK the best place in the world to locate pharmaceutical investment," adding that the "actions on research and manufacturing will further strengthen the attractiveness of the UK."

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