70 years of the NHS: has the service kept up with digital tech?

5 June 2018 (Last Updated June 5th, 2018 15:05)

This year marks the 70 year anniversary of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

70 years of the NHS: has the service kept up with digital tech?
Keeping pace with advancements in the healthcare sector, the NHS is determined to deliver world class healthcare to citizens and residents of the UK. Image: FrancisTyers.

This year marks the 70 year anniversary of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

Keeping pace with advancements in the healthcare sector, the NHS is determined to deliver world-class healthcare to citizens and residents of the UK. At this stage of the NHS’ journey, it is worth pausing and reflecting on the changes that the institute has undergone since its inception.

Despite being regarded as one of the best healthcare providers, the NHS serves as an example of how it is often moments of crisis that really showcase how well an organisation is prepared to respond to a situation. Since its inception, the NHS has been motivated by its founding principle to offer care for all on the basis of need, not on the ability to pay. Historically, this motto has helped the NHS to receive accolades of being one of the world’s finest healthcare models. However, in the last few years, the overall perception of the NHS has become less idealised.

Increasing demands from an ageing population, coupled with a rising incidence of lifestyle-related diseases, have put the health care provider under enormous pressure in recent years. The ‘NHS Five Year Forward View’ published in 2014 identified improvement opportunities in different aspects of healthcare, including seeking a better way to provide prolonged healthcare services to patients who have chronic diseases, an efficient system to purchase and deliver different treatment modalities, and a financial model that would help fund the growth of the NHS.

The report helped form strategic policies and plans including the creation of a holistic environment in which different stakeholders such as providers of physical and mental health services could work together with those in social care. Such efforts are expected to integrate with efforts to boost out-of-hospital care. Another action resulting from the report is to improve patient access to primary points of care, such as general practitioners (GPs), by delivering more new recruits in this stream of care. GPs are the first point of contact for many patients before they are referred to a hospital for further consultation; as such, having more front-line resources to help with patient interaction at this stage of healthcare is expected to effectively streamline the allocation of resources in the wider healthcare chain.

A paradigm shift is currently being witnessed wherein the NHS and other organisations are being encouraged to utilise advanced information and digital technologies to refine internal processes and to use these frameworks as routes to deliver healthcare in order to improve overall efficiency. In what is seen as a major breakthrough within the NHS, health apps accredited by the institute are now part of a roadmap to transform digital care.

An app for people with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ‘myCOPD’, is one such example; the app helps these patients to better manage their condition and has major impacts including the correction of patient inhaler errors. If this technology penetrates into other suitable patient populations, this and other similar apps may lead to cost savings for the NHS. In fact, the penetration of healthcare digital products seems to be increasing in the UK. According to GlobalData, the number of healthcare information technology (IT) products launched in the UK between 2014 and 2017 were approximately ten times higher than the number of products launched between 2010 and 2013. The trend is expected to continue as the NHS moves forward with the plan to transform digital healthcare in the country.

To help with the uptake of other high-impact innovations for patients and scale-up changes, the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) and the Innovation and Technology Tariff (ITT) have been set up; the former helps with uptake of further high-impact innovations for patients, and the purpose of the latter is to incentivize innovative technologies and their adoption within the NHS.  Both entities work together to identify themes under which innovative technologies and products are encouraged to be developed and used on a larger scale within the NHS.

It is not just the front-line NHS functions that have been reinvigorated with commitments and investments. In order to streamline product variations such as average price paid for a medical device, the Nationally Contracted Products (NCP) programme was launched. The scheme leverages on the national buying power of the NHS and aggregates the national demand of different products. All NHS trusts are required to participate in the programme. The refined procurement process is expected to generate a saving of £350M ($466M) in 2017–2018.

With an ambitious plan in place that relies more heavily on digital advancements and a coordinated network of internal processes, it is evident that the NHS is better prepared now than it has ever been to serve the increasing demands posed by a growing ageing population.

In many ways, the current plan plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of the NHS. It also changes the scenario, if only by a little, through which medical device companies operate in this market. The NHS’ central purchasing process means that companies will continue to face pricing pressures for their devices and that cost-effectiveness will need to be established for some devices, particularly newer devices that are associated with a higher acquisition price. Nonetheless, the medical devices market in the UK remains attractive; in 2017, the market was estimated to be $18.1bn, and it is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.4% to reach $25.6bn in 2025.

For more insight and data, visit the GlobalData Report Store – Verdict Medical Devices is part of GlobalData Plc.