The 21st century NHS: an engine for innovation

15 June 2016

A fascinating morning at Reform yesterday as the Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman, spoke about innovation and technological advances in the health service. The twitter feed from the event is available here.

He praised Reform for its work in “leading” the public sector transformation debate. Reform has taken a keen interest in digital technology and published work in May on the important role apps and wearable devices can play in healthcare and in April on the utility of technology in primary care.

Increasing demand

The Minister was under no illusions about the challenges the NHS faces. He explained that the UK population demographics are changing and every five years there are a million more pensioners. Currently, there is an explosion of health demand with 4,000 more people attending A&E, 22,000 more outpatient appointments and 10,000 more tests every day.

He emphasized however that the size of the challenge is matched by the size of the opportunity. In order to meet the £22 billion of savings required by 2020, the NHS needs to become 2-3 per cent more productive each year. This is a figure the private sector achieves consistently.

It is important in the public sector not to delay decision making to try and manage savings. He said savings will be achieved by adjusting NHS costing models, improving efficiency and reducing demand. His key messages on demand reduction included prevention, early diagnosis, prescribing the right medication for the right people, remote diagnostics and appropriate follow up.

George Freeman Speech_14-6-16 (23)

Digital Revolution

Many people feel frustrated that medical professionals are unaware of their medical history. Digitalising medical records will go a long way towards solving this and has the potential to improve patient safety and save time. In the summer, the Minister and Secretary of State will set out further plans to make sure that patient data is safe and secure.

The Minister said that the digital revolution not only helps medical staff access information and improve patient safety but also will empower citizens to take responsibility for their health through technology. By having access to information, patients can make informed decisions.


Leading the way

The Minister has a forward vision worth serious consideration. He feels that the NHS must move away from being a procurer of innovation to being a partner. The NHS has vast quantities of data about patients, chronic diseases, life style choices and response to therapy. This data can be used as a tool to tailor patient care. This would of course be done with involvement from patients and charities so that ultimately data sharing leads to improvements in health care.

The old model of bringing drugs or medical devices to market took up to 10 years. These days, medical advances are rapid. Once considered safe, the NHS should be involved in roll outs of medical innovations. By partnering up with companies and charities at an early stage, patients will get access to novel treatments and the NHS can seek discounts and loyalties for partnership.

All too often in the public sector, success in improving efficiency is rewarded with budget cuts. The Minister made it clear during his speech that he has no wish to move towards a privatised NHS, but instead spoke of lessons to learn. If a sector, or area of a sector, is performing well it should share its expertise and be allowed to reinvest some of the cost savings made.

Kate Laycock, Researcher, Reform



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