UK General Election

UK general election: what are the potential implications for the life sciences and healthcare sector?

Published on 25th Jun 2024

The Conservative and Labour parties both acknowledge the sector's importance to the UK's economic growth, but what plans do they have for its future?

election lsh

Campaigning ahead of the UK general election on 4 July 2024 is well underway, with both the Conservative and Labour parties underscoring the need for economic growth under the next government. Both parties have also been clear that the life sciences and healthcare (LSH) sector has an important role to play in the UK's economic future. Can we expect any change to the approach taken towards the regulation of the sector after the election? We consider the manifestos and strategy documents of the two main parties seeking to form the next government.

Industrial strategy

Both parties are keen to position themselves as the party of business, particularly noting the importance of LSH businesses. The Conservatives' Life Sciences Vision set out its plan to capitalise on the strength of the LSH sector, aiming to make the UK a "Science Superpower". It also focused on collaboration between the public and private sector, with particular Missions to tackle pressing healthcare challenges.

Interestingly, the Labour Party has stated that, if elected, it will commit to the goals of the Life Sciences Vision but describes it as a "useful starting point", with its further intention to "unblock the innovation pipeline". In terms of its plans for industrial strategy for the LSH sector, Labour has suggested that it would move life sciences and innovation under the Health Secretary's ministerial brief, strengthen the Office for Life Sciences, empowering it to drive delivery across government, and set up an Industrial Strategy Council (to which the Life Sciences Council will report) to maximise its strategic partnership with industry.

On specific areas of focus within the sector, both parties spotlight improving the LSH investment ecosystem, with a particular emphasis on scaling up start-ups and spin-outs, and advanced manufacturing.


Looking to regulatory changes put forward, Labour has proposed to establish a new Regulatory Innovation Office (RIO) to modernise regulations and accelerate approval processes by setting and monitoring targets, while also enhancing cross-regulatory collaboration and providing strategic information on what activities regulators should be prioritising. A prior announcement emphasised the RIO's role in expediting clinical trial applications and improving patient access to advanced treatments, hinting at the idea that their initial focus will be on the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) operations.

Labour has also committed to implementing the Windsor Framework which would mean, among other things, that from 1 January 2025, the MHRA will license all medicines across the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties aim to leverage AI in healthcare and identify the need for regulatory change to offer faster approvals for medical technology (med-tech) and medicines. The Conservatives have said they will implement a new med-tech pathway to ensure it can be adopted quickly in the NHS, as well as removing bureaucratic obstacles to the use of new medicines. While in office, the Conservatives had also set out their plans for regulatory reform of medical device regulations with the publication of the MHRA roadmap. If the Conservative Party forms the next government, then it is anticipated that progress with implementing this plan would continue.

With both parties highlighting the need for regulatory reform, it is expected to be a key area of attention for the incoming government.


In the context of research and development (R&D) funding, Labour has sought to differentiate itself from the Conservatives with an emphasis on long-termism. If elected, it aims to set 10-year budgets for key R&D institutions. It has stated that it would maintain the current rates of R&D tax credits over the next parliament.

The Conservative Party has also said that it would maintain the current R&D tax credits and aim to increase annual public R&D spend from £20bn to £22bn.

Both parties claim that they would cut red tape and reduce bureaucracy around R&D funding.


Both parties place a strong emphasis on modernising and digitalising the National Health Service (NHS), in particular noting the role artificial intelligence will play in this. Both manifestos underscore the efficiency improvements AI can offer the NHS. Labour states that it would harness the power of AI to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services through, for example, using scanners with embedded AI to improve the early detection of tumours. Whereas the Conservatives reference the use of AI to free up doctors' and nurses' time for frontline patient care. The changes to increase the speed of med-tech regulatory approval envisaged by both parties are intended to speed up the adoption of med-tech (including AI) in the NHS.

The current Conservative government identified engineering biology as one of five critical technologies, releasing a national vision for engineering biology at the end of 2023, which focused on the application of engineering principles to the design of biological systems. For example, using gene editing in areas such as health, agriculture and food, and chemicals and fuels. Interestingly, neither of the parties pick up this area in their manifestos so it remains to be seen what the direction of travel would be for this important future-focused technology.

However, both parties have explicitly recognised the important role intellectual property (IP) plays in innovation, with both parties stating that they would maintain the patent box regime to incentivise innovation and ensure that future trade strategies are underpinned by the importance of IP and securing reciprocal levels of IP protection.


Unsurprisingly, both parties place much emphasis on delivering changes to the NHS in their manifestos but there is not a huge amount of difference in the areas flagged for change. Both parties envisage the NHS as an innovation partner and would aim to create a clearer route for getting new products (both medicines and med-tech) into the NHS.

Both also focus on increasing the number of clinical trials, and harnessing health and genomic data to improve medical research and services for patients. There is also a clear intention to improve efficiencies in the NHS through technology, digitisation and increased interoperability of digital systems in the NHS.


Both Labour and Conservative parties have shown a commitment to streamlining healthcare procurement. For example, in line with its focus on digitalising the NHS, Labour has said that it will develop a plan for procurement to ensure "innovators have a clearer route to get their product into the NHS and identifying which goods and services should be procured centrally at volume, to get the best value for the taxpayer". This change would be welcomed by businesses looking to bring innovative healthcare products on the UK market as it could lead to an increase in tenders in this area.

When in office, the Conservatives were also looking to improve healthcare procurement. In a policy paper from April 2024, the government noted that NHS Supply Chain had initiated a new procurement process in January 2024, with the Medical Technology Dynamic Purchasing System for Innovative Products. It had also planned to introduce a value-based procurement methodology later this year to offer central guidance to lessen the complexity for the industry, which we assume would continue if the Conservatives were elected.

Osborne Clarke comment 

Both Conservative and Labour parties recognise the importance of the LSH sector and the role it will play in the UK's future economic performance. Both have a clear emphasis on the industrial strategy for the sector, with many overlapping areas of focus.

Labour has signalled that it is willing to embrace successes of the previous government in agreeing to adopt the Life Sciences Vision. Although it has ambitions beyond this: among these are its plans for reorganisation within government and setting up an Industrial Strategy Council and a Regulatory Innovation Office, and adopting a long-term approach to R&D budgets. However, these are bold changes and it is unclear at this stage just how quickly they could be implemented should Labour be elected.

Undoubtedly, reforming the NHS will be high on either party's agenda if elected, with a focus on improving efficiencies, including greater deployment and utilisation of AI, and improvements to the regulatory framework to get innovative products into the NHS more quickly. Both parties recognise the opportunities that the health and genomic data within the NHS offer in terms of furthering medical research and improving patient outcomes.

However, manifestos and pre-election strategy documents are often filled with many ideas, not all of which come to fruition once a party is elected. We will have to wait to see which areas the winning party prioritises and how high up the government's agenda those items will be. The King's speech on 17 July 2024 will provide more clarity on the newly elected government's legislative agenda for the coming year.


* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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