What do health tech leaders want from the general election campaign?

Big Ben, London

Whichever party forms the next government will find a health and social care system facing enormous challenges. Highland Marketing asked its associates and clients what role health tech and med tech can play in addressing them.

Highland Marketing asked some of its associates and clients what they hope the general election will mean for the NHS and digital health. They argued that whoever becomes the new health and social care secretary will need to invest in sorting out the basics of infrastructure, devices, and care records, if they want to build the foundations for the adoption of AI and innovation in the future.

Yet, at the same time, they argued a new government should be looking for ways to invest in technology that can address some of the immediate challenges facing the NHS, from managing waiting lists and improving patient flow through the system, to maintaining a focus on quality and addressing inequalities. There was also a plea for the next administration to work with the health and med tech industries; and to crack the stubborn nut of interoperability.

Jeremy Nettle, chair, Highland Marketing advisory board

The main parties have focussed on the NHS, because it is one of the top concerns for voters. They’ve shown much less interest in social care, but the health service’s problems won’t be resolved without a functioning care system to reduce demand and free up discharges.

So, whoever becomes the new secretary of state, let’s hope they remember the job is health and social care. They’re certainly going to be taking on the job at a challenging time, with junior doctors about to strike again and waiting lists growing after a period of stability.

The capacity and reform required will not be delivered without investment in technology. Organisations need better infrastructure, devices, and software systems to support the AI that politicians are hoping will be a panacea. Working with the private sector on waiting times could also create a new focus for data sharing. After all, the only person with a true 360 view of their healthcare is the patient themselves.

Jane Rendall, managing director, Sectra UK and Ireland

The new health and social care secretary should prioritise the integration of genomics into healthcare, leveraging the Genome UK strategy to offer personalised treatments and predict disease risks.

Emphasis on digital transformation is crucial across the NHS, with a cloud-first approach that can enhance the interoperability and efficiency of systems and help to improve access to diagnostic tests, imaging and expertise.

Addressing health inequalities, ensuring data security, and fostering innovation through public cloud platforms are also essential. This comprehensive focus will help to modernise the NHS, improve patient care, and prepare for future healthcare challenges.

Jamie Whysall, principal head of healthcare, Netcompany

One of the biggest challenges in the NHS is how to do more with a finite amount of resource and budget – and to balance smart investments that can promote positive change in the short-term as well as elevate citizen and clinician experiences in the long-term.

Investment in new hospitals and large IT systems to bring it together may seem like a heavy up-front investment, but there are step-change approaches available today with proven success in mitigating risk, increasing productivity, and reducing waste costs.

We believe prioritisation should be given to technology that can be used to improve the capacity of existing healthcare systems and the flow of patients through them. That means solutions that can help to optimise, streamline and predict fluctuations in demand and give the healthcare system the agility to adjust across a hospital, an integrated care system level, or at or national level.

Bevin Manoy and Moyra Amess, directors, CHKS

Whatever the outcome of the general election campaign, there is a huge task ahead for the NHS. Health services are still living with the impact of Covid-19, with real pressure on the workforce. There are mounting waiting lists, with acuity of patients increasing as people wait longer for treatment.

To address these challenges, we need a strong focus on patient safety and the effectiveness of services in the acute health sector. That means collecting high quality clinically coded data, benchmarking to find out what works and what does not, and assurance services to support professionals in delivering excellent outcomes for patients.

None of this requires huge, new initiatives. If anything, it requires stability, and continuing to invest in the basics of being able to ensure efficient and high-quality services. There are tough decisions ahead, but to address them we need to be smart and to use the tools available to make good decisions. 

David Simpson, owner and head of product and partnerships, MEDILOGIK

One priority for a new government interested in health tech should be to ensure that large electronic patient record suppliers are forced to fully integrate with the numerous, small, departmental clinical systems that hospitals use. This is a crucial step towards delivering a true, integrated care record, with all the benefits that would deliver for clinicians and, of course, patent safety.

Secondly, national and local projects should be aligned and use the same procurement rules to reduce the conflicting requirements that suppliers tend to face at every stage. And finally, instead of issuing targets, it would be good if policy makers and programme managers could engage with suppliers. After all, we might just have some experience and be able to assist – or even improve! – what they are trying to achieve.

Dean Moody, healthcare services director, Airwave Healthcare

General election campaigns can have a long-lasting impact on health services and the technology they use. A good example is the introduction of bedside TV and telephones to NHS hospitals.

This was a key feature of the NHS Plan that New Labour launched after the 1997 general election. The NHS Plan promised new hospitals and state or the art facilities. But the patient pays model for bedside entertainment and communications was never popular and the units that deliver it have never been modernised.

This general election, it would be great to see one of the parties promise to do away with the patient pays model, and to invest in today’s state of the art technology. That way, we could not only deliver entertainment, but information and digital services to patients, educating and engaging them to be partners in their own care.

Assad Tabet, senior vice president healthcare, UKI and Europe, Mastek

Reducing health inequalities should be a joint priority for the UK government and the NHS over the course of the next Parliament. Collecting, harnessing, and utilising available data should be at the centre of the strategy to achieve this goal. Ahead of the general election, Mastek is calling all political parties to commit to cross-government data sharing to address data gaps in public health surveillance and drive local prevention efforts.

In particular, the focus should be on the following areas, which have consistently been shown to have a considerable impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing: environmental considerations, such as air quality; housing status, including details on homelessness and those living in damp and overcrowded accommodation; employment status, including details of long-term unemployment, where appropriate; the location of, and proximity to, community and acute health services.

Chris Goldie, chief executive, Vertex UK

Every health tech vendor will argue that the digitisation of the NHS must top the new health and social care secretary’s agenda.  Considerable progress in digital strategy and implementation has already been seen, especially in areas such as diagnostics.

Building on this momentum in ways that maximise available innovation, will require a focus on modernising procurement approaches within the health service. Framework contracts and tender stipulations can make it hard for innovative start-ups to work with systems and trusts on valuable, cost-effective solutions.

We believe that to truly advance NHS digitisation, the new health and social care secretary needs to have the process of doing business with the NHS high on their agenda. It urgently needs to be reformed, to support British startups with solutions that can truly enhance patient service delivery. 

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