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NHSE director who delivered huge savings to step down

Published on: 24 Aug 2022

NHS England director Blake Dark, whose negotiations with the pharma industry are credited with saving the NHS large sums of money on expensive drugs, will leave in November.

Mr Dark joined NHS England as commercial medicines director in 2018, from Sanofi, where he had worked for more than 20 years.

He established the function as NHSE sought for the first time to negotiate directly on a range of high cost and potentially very effective medicines. He is NHSE’s chief negotiator with the pharmaceutical industry, overseeing deals for expensive individual drugs and commercial details of the cancer drugs fund. He also works closely with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, as well as NHSE’s specialised services and finance teams.

Among the deals he struck were those for several cystic fibrosis treatments, which can significantly extend and improve quality of life, following long, fraught negotiations and amid huge pressure from anxious patients. They also included arrangements for gene therapy access for spinal muscular atrophy, and the first new sickle cell disease treatment in more than two decades.

He also briefly served as NHSE’s interim chief commercial officer in 2021, after Emily Lawson left to join Downing Street.

Mr Dark told colleagues in a note that he would leave in November.

He said in a note: “When I joined [NHSE] four years ago, I held an ambition to use my experience working in the pharmaceutical industry to establish the commercial capabilities that would better enable NHS patients across the country to benefit from cutting-edge medicines, without compromising on a duty to drive exceptional value for taxpayers.

“Supporting the NHS to transform its approach to medicines and helping the health service to navigate through the heights of a pandemic have been incredibly challenging and immensely rewarding experiences. I believe that now is the right time to step away and get a better balance of work and family life. I am looking forward to taking a few months away from work and considering what, professionally, may or may not come next.

“Of course, there is unfinished work: more challenges and more opportunities, and I have no doubt that the commercial medicines function that the NHS now possesses contains the capacity, the capabilities and the character (and characters) at every level to meet these challenges and realise these opportunities.”

He added: “One of the values written into the NHS constitution is simply, ‘Everyone counts’ – noting that wasted resources are wasted opportunities for others. I have always found that to be a very pertinent and powerful proposition to be dedicated to.

“It has been those stories of personal patient experiences that has motivated me and my team to do all we can to provide frontline NHS staff with the best possible tools to improve the lives of individuals across the country – and in some cases even provide the opportunity of a full life.”

Mr Dark said “news about the future leadership of the NHS commercial medicines function [would be] communicated in due course”.

It comes as NHSE goes through a major reorganisation.