Brexit boost to life sciences ‘could close North-South health gap’ says Think Tank

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Life sciences sector – vaunted by Theresa May in her first conference speech as PM – thrives in the North and is key to post-Brexit economic growth, says think-tank.

The government must invest in northern life sciences to close the North-South gap in economic growth and health post Brexit, according to leading think-tank IPPR North.

“Health Innovation: Breathing Life into the Northern Powerhouse” sets out a plan to improve northerners’ health and grow the northern economy as the UK leaves the EU.
The North has a thriving life sciences and health sector, employing almost 600,000 people in the region, the report finds. Its private sector specialises in pharmaceuticals and medical technology, its universities are catalysts of innovation and the public sector health services have a significant economic impact.

For instance, the North East is a world-leading hub for ageing and innovation; the North West combines Manchester’s cancer research, Liverpool’s school of tropical medicine, and Cheshire’s innovative private sector; and in Yorkshire and Humber, Leeds, Sheffield and York lead on health technology and health economics.
There is a clear link between investment in research and health outcomes, the report notes, with research-active health trusts also seeing lower rates of patient mortality following emergency admissions. This is vital for the North, where health outcomes are poorer compared to the South.
But Brexit poses a real challenge for the sector, the report warns, as it receives EU funding, and benefits from EU-wide regulation and trading in the single market.

The report finds that government research funding isn’t harnessing the potential of the sector in the North, and it should aim to spend 20 per cent of its research budget in “catch-up cash”. This would help level the playing field with the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

The report also recommends that the life and health sciences sector in the North should be placed at the heart of the government’s industrial strategy and the new Department for International Trade should invest resources to promote the sector internationally, particularly in the American, Asian and Commonwealth markets while NHS commissioners should take greater account of local economic growth in their procurement decisions.

Luke Raikes, senior research fellow at IPPR North, said:

“The health sciences sector is a true northern asset. Its innovation will help close the North-South health gap and grow the northern economy. This is even more important as we move toward Brexit.”

he says adding,

“The government should take note of the level of private sector investment in the North, and use a fifth of its research pot to give the North the catch-up cash it needs.The government must also put this sector at the heart of its economic plans – through its new industrial strategy and in trading our pharmaceuticals and medical technologies in the world.”