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£29.7 million cash ‘injection’ to secure drug manufacturing in region’s NHS for next 20 years

NHS patients across the North East and North Cumbria are set to benefit from a major capital investment to expand pharmaceutical services across the region’s entire hospital network.

Thanks to a joint bid submitted through the region’s Provider Collaborative*, £29.7 million of national NHS funding has been secured.  It will be used to create a new state-of-the-art sterile drug manufacturing hub to serve all eight hospital and community NHS Foundation Trusts in the region.

Known as an ‘aseptic unit’, the new facility will increase capacity across the region’s NHS to produce more specialist injectable medicines which are used to treat some of the sickest patients.  This includes chemotherapy treatment for people living with cancer, injectable nutrition for people who need help feeding (in hospital or at home), as well as other intravenous drugs and cutting edge medicines for clinical trials.

Injectable, or aseptic, medicines are a vital part of safe and high-quality patient care.  The region’s NHS currently prepares around 4 million doses each year.  This investment is a major feat for health and care in the region.

It will mean a substantial expansion of local services, safeguarding the supply of vital drugs to the region’s NHS for the next 20 years by creating a sustainable supply chain and reducing reliance on commercial providers.  There will be major benefits for staff, patients and local people with projected recurrent annual savings of £14 million.

The new regional hub will also help improve supply of common medicines which people need to go home from hospital as part of ‘pre-labelled’ medicine packs.  Over 500,000 pre-printed labels will be provided directly via the new hub to help improve patient flow and hospital discharge processes and ease pressure on local teams.

Work will now get underway to develop more detailed plans for the new facility including a projected timescale for work to begin.  NHS leaders have already agreed a site for the development at Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, alongside the PPE manufacturing hub built by Northumbria Healthcare during the pandemic. 

The new £29.7 million facility will work in a hub and spoke model with existing aseptic units across the region’s hospitals, many of which are already working at, or set to reach, full capacity over the next ten years.

Mr Ken Bremner MBE, Chair of the region’s Provider Collaborative* and Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust said:  “It is fantastic to secure this level of investment for the region which will significantly increase our production capacity for these vital drug treatments.

“Many of our existing aseptic units across the region are in old buildings with little room for expansion or development.  This new facility means we will can achieve much greater gains in manufacturing efficiency by doing things on a much bigger scale where this makes sense.  It shows what we can achieve by working together to address the key strategic issues which affect every single NHS Foundation Trust.”

Sir Jim Mackey, Chief Executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said:  “We are delighted to be able to support this development through the work we have already done with our PPE manufacturing hub. By thinking innovatively and at scale we have now secured the future of medicines supply for many decades to come but also helped to create more local jobs and prosperity at a time when people need it most.”

Once built, the new drug manufacturing hub will provide a first class training environment and become a learning academy for staff working within the region’s NHS and for trainee pharmacists and other scientific and technical staff involved in drug production.  The region’s NHS leaders also hope to be able to provide a service to other parts of the country once the facility is up and running.

Samantha Allen, Chief Executive of the Integrated Care Board (ICB) for the North East and North Cumbria, said: “This is great news for the region and a tangible demonstration of what can be achieved through collaboration. 

Our NHS Foundation Trusts have a strong track record of working together and the Provider Collaborative is already showing how this will be strengthened even further in the years ahead.

“This new facility is an excellent example of how we are working collectively, joining up resources and sharing expertise to provide the very best health and care services but also creating opportunities and making a positive social impact within our communities.  I look forward to seeing the development progress over the coming months.”

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