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Press Release: June 23rd, 2023

NHS Technology Reform Remains Too Slow 

  • As the NHS progresses with its Long-Term Plan to revolutionise patient care, can it afford to wait for decades as changes are considered, debated, and implemented? In its current form, that is highly unlikely. As satisfaction in the NHS is at an all-time low. Emergency Departments face increasing overcrowding, GP appointments are scarce and subject to an 8am race, and bed capacity remains exceptionally high, so reform needs to come quickly, and NHS management needs to explore alternative, more immediate options available to them in ongoing patient care to reduce the growing impact.

ED Overcrowding

Anyone who watches the news or reads a newspaper will be aware that ED visits are increasing, partially due to the ongoing issue of getting GP appointments. The issues across the health service are systemic, and admittedly this will take time to resolve.

However, that is not to say there aren’t options available now to mitigate some of the impacts. One area that will offer immediate respite lies with the patient. Many ED visits are for patients with lifelong conditions presenting new, worsening, or concerning symptoms. It is fair to say a high percentage of these visits are due to poor condition understanding and management, which can be avoided. What is the answer?

Asthma impact on the NHS

If we concentrate on a single area of healthcare, respiratory conditions - the third biggest cause of death in the UK - and more specifically the Asthma, we can see the impact Emergency Department visits have on the health service. By the end of 2022, Asthma admissions in the last quarter surpassed 5,000 per month, with a dramatic 149% increase in child admissions.   

Asthma is an excellent example of how a lifelong condition can cause patient concern, leading to unnecessary ED visits. While some patients require admission and ongoing treatment, most will recover without further complications as their anxiety diminishes and the healthcare provider provides reassurance. Considering the resources connected to these visits, it is easy to see that reform and innovation in condition management, encouraging effective, correctly administered use of the inhaler as an example of self-medication, and further patient education could significantly improve the emergency care overload.

Adoption of technology is too slow

In recent years, new technologies have been adopted by healthcare professionals - and patients - to provide a deeper insight and understanding of their conditions - blood sugar monitors for Diabetic patients, for instance. Technological innovation is a hot topic in the NHS Long-Term plan, but in my opinion, we need to find ways of cutting through the red tape, assessing - albeit safely - contemporary technologies quickly and efficiently. Accessing such a hostile regulatory environment that offers no flexibility or faster access opportunities is ludicrous in the 21st century and should be addressed as a matter of urgency ahead of any of the other elements in the long-term plan.  

After many years in pharmaceuticals, I have focussed the latter part of my career on technology in healthcare. Having seen the increasing pressures the NHS faces, new tech innovations will offer data and insight that will change how we manage patients with lifelong conditions, saving hundreds of millions of pounds for the NHS through better patient management and care, but moreover provide education, understanding and reassurance for the patient too. The NHS has embraced the democratisation of information and data; this is simply the next obvious step.  

Imagine, if you will, a piece of sub-dermal technology in the patient’s body that monitors key observations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now consider that technology being linked to the patient’s mobile device, which acts as a storage medium and connected to a GP or hospital nurse. Suddenly, with minimum effort and without the patient even attending healthcare appointments, the professionals have access to real-time, detailed data and insight about the patient’s medical condition with a simple data transfer.

Reverting to the example of Asthma patients, how will technological solutions address the problems with the NHS? Many admissions are related to possible Asthma attacks or at least worsening symptoms, often exacerbated by anxiety in the patient or parent. The mobile application provides a tool that offers reassurance through education and monitoring. The patient will learn how their body changes through the day, see when interventions - such as a correctly administered inhaler where the patient gets the full benefit of the drug - are required, and learn how to manage their condition specific to their individual needs. Asthma attacks will be reduced or prevented, and lifestyle changes - informed by real-time medical data - will significantly improve the patient’s overall health and wellbeing. Better condition management leads to fewer ED presentations.

Advancing research and treatments

Alongside improved condition management by the patient, new technologies have many more advantages in healthcare. The data on the individual patient will provide GPs and consultants with deeper insight into the patient’s condition - reducing the need for routine appointments. It will inform on required drug interventions, potentially reducing pharmaceutical use, and saving millions of pounds for the NHS.

More importantly, the adoption of contemporary technologies across the healthcare system - NHS and private services - has a long-term positive impact on treating such conditions. Medical research has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade alone, and with AI able to process data much faster than we could ever have imagined, the worldwide data provided by technologies such as this will save more than money for healthcare services but many lives too.

The future for the NHS

Clinical trials of advancing technologies have proved efficacy and are already being adopted or considered in healthcare and other sectors, such as risk mitigation and underwriting in insurance. The bureaucracy within a huge organisation such as the NHS will slow adoption compared to private healthcare. Still, managers should be engaging with tech developers now to ensure the technology is developed for effective use in the future. I, for one, will continue to lobby them to prove the importance of the technology to the future of our NHS.

Charlotte Townsend: Head of Marketing


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