The UK medical technology sector generates an annual turnover of approximately $33 billion. It has a strong foundation of mostly small to medium-sized companies around the country, with clusters of activity in areas such as the Southeast of England and the Midlands. Many multi-national companies, including several leading U.S. medical technology manufacturers have offices or manufacturing facilities in the UK.
The largest purchaser of medical technology, the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), accounts for approximately 86% of the country’s healthcare provision. It receives funding from the central government however is managed as four separate systems: NHS England along with devolved systems in NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, and HSC Northern Ireland. The NHS in England provides care to approximately 83% of the population. Most of its procurement is carried out by acute hospital trusts, which spend an estimated $13 billion each year on medical technology.
The private (independent) healthcare sector is considerably smaller and funded through health insurance, self-pay patients, or NHS-funded referrals. Its strengths lie in the provision of secondary and tertiary care, fields not traditionally offered by the NHS (cosmetic surgery) or where public sector service is limited (dental care). Publicly funded adult social care services are commissioned by regional government councils but typically provided by private for-profit or voluntary organizations.
Various changes and priorities will affect the sector. These include the Health and Care Act which legislates reforms relating to the structure and delivery of health and care services in England. Reforms include the shift to integrated care systems to provide joined up models of care. As it undergoes various internal changes, the NHS will continue to focus on tackling the backlog of non-urgent elective surgeries and out-patient appointments.
Since the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) in January 2020, there have been different conformity requirements for products being placed on the market in Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) and Northern Ireland. According to the current timeline, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will implement changes to the existing medical device regulatory framework in July 2025.
The size, structure, and complexity of the NHS has created the need for a vast, efficient digital health infrastructure. While successive governments have regarded digitalization as an essential component in tackling the social and economic challenges facing the NHS, the road to full digital maturity has not always been easy. However, progress is being made. NHS adoption and integration of digital technology increased significantly during the pandemic. Digital innovation forms a key part of the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan, a document which outlines priorities and objectives for the next ten years. Specific digital priorities and aims can also be found in policy paper: A plan for digital health and social care published in June 2022.
Although it is difficult to place an exact value on digital health in the UK, this is already a very well developed and competitive market that plays host to numerous leading technology companies. The market also offers opportunities for smaller companies and developers.
Potential suppliers are advised to begin by gaining an in-depth understanding of their industry segment and building contacts to establish what is required within the market and determine the best method of entry. It will be necessary to adhere to relevant NHS as well as broader national compliance standards and regulations.
As a significant percentage of domestically produced medical products are exported, this is a large import market that is very receptive to new and innovative technology. The U.S. is a leading supplier of diagnostic, dental, and orthopedic equipment, and high-quality wound care products.
There is likely to be continued focus on sustainability, in relation to demand or requirements for products and the broader supply chain etc., as the NHS works to meet its ‘net zero’ targets. The elective care backlog will drive demand for associated devices and technology. The government’s medical technology strategy paper, published in February 2023, outlines two specific areas of focus: primary care & community and diagnostics (elective recovery, early diagnosis, industry engagement, and pandemic preparedness).
Within the digital segment there is demand for clinical efficiency tools, innovative apps and wearables, health analytics tools, remote consultation tools, and monitoring devices (home monitoring, virtual wards etc.) that can improve clinical outcomes and patient experience across all areas of the healthcare system.
There are various ways to sell to the various NHS agencies. There isn’t a single route into the market. Method of entry is largely determined by the type of product or service. It is currently mandatory for public sector organizations to advertise procurement opportunities over 12,000 GBP on Contracts Finder web site. Opportunities can be identified within NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, and HSC Northern Ireland by approaching or visiting relevant agencies or online portals. Although the private segment is much smaller, opportunities exist for companies to supply private hospital, residential or nursing facilities with technology or equipment.
As it can be challenging to sell directly in the healthcare system from overseas, many U.S. exporters find it easier to form partnerships with well-established local companies. This enables new entrants to take advantage of their partners market expertise as well as their access to buyers and other decision makers.
- Digital Healthcare Show, April 24-25, 2024, ExCel, London
- Med-Tech Innovation Expo, June 5-6, 2024, NEC, Birmingham
- NAIDEX July 20-21, 2024, NEC, Birmingham. Accessibility, inclusion and disability expo.
- Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT), September 24-25, 2024, ExCel, London
For further information, please contact:
Cheryl Withers, U.S. Commercial Service, Tel: 011 44 20 7891 3471