University of Oxford researchers have been awarded £1.24 million to lead a medical diagnostics co-operative to develop, foster and evaluate new medical diagnostic technologies to improve outcomes for patients in the community.

The new initiative aims to speed up the development, evaluation, and use of diagnostic tests that will help healthcare professionals to make better decisions for their patients, in areas such as antibiotic prescribing, child health and chronic illness. The focus will be on home and community care, including GP surgeries, acute medical centre, out-of-hours care and home visits.

Hosted by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, the NIHR Community Healthcare MIC will bring together experienced health researchers and clinical experts with the people who will actually be using these technologies.

Funded for five years by the National Institute for Health Research, the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and in vitro diagnostics Co-operative (MIC) will partner with commercial medical technology developers to ensure new concepts are rigorously evaluated and are useful for the NHS, and  meet real clinical need in community settings.

The project is one of 11 newly funded NIHR Medtech and in-vitro diagnostic cooperatives announced last week by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to coincide with the publication of the Life Science Industrial Strategy.

Dr Mark Hancock, Oxford Health’s Medical Director, said: “I am delighted we have been successful in our bid to host a new MIC, which will build on the achievements of the existing Diagnostic Evidence Co-operative in Oxford.

“The MIC’s ambition to develop better point-of-care diagnostics is strongly aligned to the Trust’s strategic objective to provide care in the community and to improve outcomes for patients.”

“90% of patient contact in community settings”

NIHR Community Healthcare MIC Clinical Director, Professor Chris Butler, who is Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said: “90% of NHS patient contacts occur in community settings like GP surgeries and pharmacies, often without timely access to diagnostic tests which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

“Diagnostic innovations can be miracles of technological innovation, yet frequently are poorly positioned in the complexity of clinical care, and sadly, all too often, inadequately evaluated.

Evaluation is often limited to questions of test accuracy, rather than finding out whether the diagnostic actually improves outcomes for patients, or are worth the costs involved.

The Community Healthcare MIC will facilitate designing and planning of timely, rigorous and appropriate diagnostics development, evaluation, and, where beneficial, their uptake into everyday care.”

Dr Gail Hayward, the MIC’s Deputy Director said, “By brokering links between medical technology companies and NHS settings to evaluate devices during their development stage, the NIHR Community Healthcare MIC will put patient benefit in the driving seat to ensure that new diagnostic and monitoring technologies successfully transform community healthcare before they are rolled out into routine care.”

The initiative builds on the work of the NIHR Diagnostic Evidence Co-operative Oxford, which has evaluated point-of-care in vitro diagnostics since 2013 and coordinates the annual UK Diagnostics Forum.

“The utility of robust, simple point-of-care technologies to help early pathway diagnosis and monitoring is clear,” said Conor O’Brien, CEO at the Netherlands-based healthcare company FABPulous, who will act as the NIHR Community Healthcare MIC’s diagnostic industry representative.

“However, the translation of technology into suitably rapid and clinically useful tools requires all-stage co-ordination between industry, research, and clinical practice. The NIHR Community Healthcare MIC will make possible the market-led development of convenient and effective diagnostic tools to help clinical decision making, patient experience and operational efficiency.”

The NIHR Community Healthcare MIC will officially open for business from 1 January 2018.