Chris Whitehouse, a political consultant and expert on medical technology policy and regulation at Whitehouse Communications, chair of the Urology Trade Association, fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and trustee of the Institute of Medical Ethics, marks Urology Awareness Month and highlights the importance of sustainability in new product innovation.
September is Urology Awareness Month. Organised by The Urology Foundation, the campaign aims to raise awareness of urological diseases and conditions, as well as raise money to fund crucial research and training for practitioners dealing with these types of diseases. Urological conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent and include some of the most common serious diseases in the UK – such as prostate cancer, kidney damage and incontinence.
The urology sector, like every other branch of healthcare with a thriving medical technology sector, is under increasing pressure to deliver new innovative medical products to cement the UK’s place as a world leader in the medical technologies industry. In my last few articles, I have referenced the drive from policymakers at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NHS to accelerate the uptake of selected innovative medical devices, diagnostics, and digital products to patients faster. This is evident through guidance in the NHS Long Term Plan, the creation of the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative, as well as the development of the MedTech Funding Mandate.
As chair of the Urology Trade Association (UTA), my members recognise the important role that they can play in improving patient outcomes in the short and long-term, driving innovation and delivering value for money in the sector. Innovation can be defined as ‘doing something different whilst adding value’, and members are already incentivised to do just that to stay competitive.
Many manufacturers and suppliers of urology products invest in their own research and development (R&D) programmes to obtain the knowledge and insight to improve on the products that they manufacture. R&D investment allows manufacturers to develop new innovative products with better outcomes for patients, as well as ensuring that these products are safe and effective. It also allows manufacturers to consistently look at ways to find the right product for the right patient, allowing users to maintain their quality of life, live independently and avoid repeated medical consultations – and the associated cost to the NHS.
Clinical trials can provide important information about the efficacy and adverse effects of continence care products, allowing researchers to record and assess the results to improve and perfect the products that are being developed. The majority of medtech innovators, of course, have their own R&D programmes, which allows them to stay competitive and keep up with emerging markets.
Manufacturers also recognise the importance of tackling single-use plastics waste not only in their own manufacturing and waste streams, but also in the NHS, which is increasingly encouraged by Government to reduce the amount of unnecessary single-use plastics flowing through the healthcare system. So, increasingly innovators’ R&D efforts are aligned with the developing sustainability agenda.
Increasingly innovators in the sector are requesting their suppliers to outline their strategy on how to reduce plastic packaging and improve recyclable options. As a result, several UTA members have produced catheters in which large parts of the packaging and outer shell of the catheters are recyclable. Separately, one member has produced the world’s first totally dissolvable female urinary catheter in a bid to reduce plastic pollution. The catheter dissolves completely in water after just 30 to 60 minutes, and so does not contribute to landfill waste or ocean pollution.
Some UTA Members have also stated their commitment to eliminating chemicals and materials with negative environmental impact, such as PVC and phthalates. Increasingly, products are being designed to produce minimal environmental impact throughout the entire product lifecycle. This is through assessing the choice of material, manufacturing methods and handling of used products. Our members are increasingly using less water in the coating process for their catheters, embracing 100% renewable solvents in some cases reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process by 50%. More members are considering the environmental footprint of their manufacturing processes and are producing life cycle assessments to aid their decision-making processes.
One UTA Member has focused on ways to use more durable materials to produce products with as low environmental impact as possible. Their new product sustainability roadmap looks to ensure that sustainability is incorporated into all future product designs. Where plastic is used in any of the primary packaging of the products, they are subject to product/package design processes to minimise the weight and maximise utilisation, as well as using more recyclable plastics, where possible, while also meeting consumer preferences and product protection requirements.
Dialogue with government
Last month, DHSC appointed a new director of their MedTech Directorate, David Lawson, who will be ready to hit the ground running to promote innovation, encourage speedy uptake of new devices and reduce overall system costs for the NHS. But rather than a top-down approach to encouraging manufacturers and suppliers to deliver either incremental or step-change innovation, he might benefit from having conversations with a wider range of players in the medtech sector about what they are already doing to deliver positive outcomes for patients, clinicians, the medtech sector and UK PLC as a whole.
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