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14 January 2019
By Inga Louisa Stevens, Contributing Writer
As the NHS continues with its 70th birthday celebrations, much of the commentary around the outlook for the UK healthcare sector is centred on the pressures of upholding consistent care quality standards while pushing for greater efficiencies. Economic factors, technological advances, and emerging public health issues have led to rapid changes in the way healthcare has been delivered in the UK throughout 2018 and continuing challenges such as an ageing population and the rising prevalence in chronic conditions are likely to compound this problem.
In response to these challenges, the healthcare sector in the UK is expected to shift its approach to care delivery by adopting more efficient and effective models of care provision such a personalised care, which will focus on delivering treatment based on the patient’s specific needs, preferences and physical condition.
A Focus on Digital Health Technology
Digital healthcare technologies will take centre stage in managing these efficiencies with Deloitte predicting that the UK will account for 7 per cent (£2.9 billion) of the £43 billion global digital health market by 2018.
According to Dr. Indra Joshi, clinical lead for NHS England’s digital experience programme, writing in a blog post published on the NHS England website, the most promising market for growth is mobile health with sales of apps and wearables predicted to increase by 35 per cent in the UK by 2018.
“With the increasing value of these markets comes increased focus on the policy around health IT systems and interoperability. This is key to enabling safe and effective data exchange.” However, she warns that there is a lack of interoperability with digital health tools such as devices, wearables and integrated apps, which need to be addressed and that in order to address this nationally, “it is clear that a standard of what is ‘good’ needs to be developed and adopted.”
Opportunities and Challenges
In a report titled What will new technology mean for the NHS and its patients? Four Big Technological Trends, researchers from the Health Foundation, Institute for Fiscal Studies, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust joined forces for the first time, using combined expertise, to shed light on some of the big questions on the NHS. The report focused on four current trends — genomics and precision medicine, remote care, technology-supported self-management, and data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – and the potential that they have to improve healthcare in the future if they continue to progress.
The authors found that if the trends outlined in the report continue to progress, they have the potential to completely transform healthcare in terms of personalised treatments, improved access to specialist advice, tools and support for patients to become real experts in their health and care; and a data-driven system able to continuously learn and improve. However, it suggests that substantial barriers also exist, which slow the implementation of these new technologies including requiring large changes to both the workforce and workflows.
“While there is no doubt technology offers sizable benefits to the NHS, the NHS needs to be aware of the challenges and opportunity costs that new advances present, as well as the policy questions that need answering in order to make the most of future potential,” the report concluded.
Bridging the Skills Gap
According to Health Education England, the health service workforce in the UK, which already stands at 1.4 million, will need to increase by 190,000 by 2027 unless the rise in illness recedes. With the ageing and growing population creating a greater need for care, in order to prevent any more ‘brain drain’ the UK healthcare service is looking at new approaches to bridge the skills gap, attract new talent and retain existing staff.
As a crucial part of delivering the next steps of the NHS Five Year Forward View, Health Education England is expanding current routes to the frontline and opening innovative new ones to attract the best people into the health service. According to the NHS Five Year Forward View, there is a need to continue to improve productivity and grow frontline workforce, especially in priority areas such as nursing, mental health, urgent and primary care.
The document also described how “achieving this will require more training, more recruitment, better retention and greater return to practice after time out of the workforce. It will also require flexibility as roles and places of work evolve in line with changes to the practice of medicine and the shape of healthcare.”
Taking to the Global Stage
According to Healthcare UK managing director Deborah Kobewka, who sat down with Arab Health Magazine during Arab Health 2018, the UK’s ability to stand out on the global stage in terms of its healthcare capabilities is down to the uniqueness having an excellent healthcare system — the NHS.
“This system has been in development for 70 years, supported by a private sector that works closely with academia to develop cutting-edge technologies that are taking forward healthcare in the UK,” she explained. “Over the years, the NHS has amassed huge amounts of data and insights, which we have been able to leverage and, in combination with very innovative digital capabilities, provide real leading-edge insights into healthcare and use that to improve patient outcome and safety. We are very proud of what we have been able to develop in terms of the NHS.”
Last year, at Arab Health, the focus for Healthcare UK was on prevention, quality and innovation, with exceptional applications in the field of digital healthcare. During the trade show, British healthcare technology company Babylon announced an agreement between themselves and THIQAH to provide AI health services to the citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), in association with the KSA Ministry of Health.
Indeed, there remains a significant opportunity for UK businesses and the NHS in healthcare exports across the globe. The NHS will be ready to target up to £7 billion of opportunities a year over the next decade with its world-leading healthcare expertise, thanks to a new government support service.
The Healthcare UK Export Catalyst is set to help the NHS to access global healthcare export opportunities, with worldwide spend in the sector growing at 7 per cent a year. Healthcare UK has already supported NHS organisations to win export business of more than £100 million over the last two years.
The catalyst sets out to boost this further and comes as the result of a pilot with NHS organisations to identify the services that would best suit them as they embark upon their export journey. The service will provide continued support, right through to finding opportunities and winning contracts.
Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman of NHS England, said in a press release: “In my view, Healthcare UK have done a great job already in raising the profile of UK healthcare services and systems overseas. Their new Export Catalyst service will further enhance the service available to NHS Trusts in developing their export capabilities, so they can reach a wide range of international markets.
“In the next year, the mission will be closely focused on providing a showcase for great British healthcare services, building a strong brand across the globe and realising the amazing export potential of our world-class health system.”