ABHI Membership

ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. Looking to the Future: How Tech and the NHS can work as one

Where technology is concerned, it’s safe to say the NHS has struggled to find its feet, at least on a national level.

The historically chequered relationship health and care have had with tech can – and must – be addressed. Thankfully, tech has never been higher on the agenda for the health service. What does this mean for the future, and the construction of the 10-year plan for the NHS?

One thing is certain: Tech is rapidly becoming an integral part of the agenda’s foundation, or at least in the rhetoric around it. Better tech holds the potential to free up staff time, create more patient-centred care, improve medical outcomes, and drastically improve workforce rotas.

For example, a new app developed by Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust allows patients to change and confirm appointments on a smartphone, tablet or computer, with outpatient letters emailed in real time.

However, important as it is, we should remember that focusing on technological advancement alone will not be enough. I believe the future of health and care in England will be determined by a myriad of factors – such as adequate provision for social care, integration, and having the right workforce – which must work in tandem with tech.

There must be the ability to work easily across vocational and geographical boundaries, to plan for the health of the whole population, and put patients at the centre of their own care. Fortunately for health and care, we are already heading in the right direction, as much of the tech currently on offer or in development helps to do this.

Secretary of State Matt Hancock made an accurate observation at his inaugural Health and Care Innovation Expo speech. This was that the grassroots culture of technological development in health and care at the local level is a cornerstone of wider adoption throughout the service. He implored the sector to work with tech companies, and he also issued a warning to firms not aligned with the NHS’s priorities – telling them that they won’t be selling to the NHS if they aren’t on board.

And already, at the case-by-case level, there are numerous NHS trusts working hand-in-hand with the tech sector on innovations that have had an immeasurable impact on patients and the staff who care for them.

These early signs paint a relatively optimistic picture for the future, where tech and health work as one for the benefit of patients. But this great work must be expanded nationally if the health service is to keep providing the best care possible.

And to bring this future about, both sides will need to have a greater understanding of what the other is doing. If NHS England and other key partners are serious about developing a plan with the service we need proper engagement with leaders and front-line staff. The plan needs to be good but it also needs buy-in.

A truly integrated system with clear pathways between NHS services and health and care, aided thoroughly by tech, is within reach – if we can come together as a wider sector.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive, NHS Confederation