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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. The NHS: Where we are and where we need to go

With the NHS celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, we have had the opportunity to recognise its many achievements. However, with a growing and aging population, facing more complex, chronic and concurrent conditions, it now must confront its biggest challenge since its creation in 1948. As the baby boomer generation gets frailer and older, the NHS – and, its sibling service, social care – will face more pressure than ever.

In June this year, three weeks before the anniversary Theresa May and her Government made a vital step towards ensuring the NHS is up for the task. After years of austerity, our beloved health service has finally got a much-needed funding boost. Many – including the Independent Review I recently chaired for IPPR – have argued for more money, with some commentators arguing that only 4 percent per year growth (compared to 3.4 percent promised) would allow the service to maintain its existing standards.

But in reality, this is more than we could have hoped for at the start of the process. And, just as important was the Government’s commitment that this new funding would be invested in much needed reform. This is the pledge we must now focus on – as well as securing more funding for other services such as social care and public health in the upcoming spending review – if the NHS is to thrive in the 2020’s.

After all, funding alone will not unlock the potential of the NHS. We must also embrace radical reform. This is not because politicians say so; politically motivated change has poisoned the case for reform. But, because more and better science, as well as the digital revolution, have produced novel new models of care, drugs, treatments and technologies that can ‘predict and prevent’ where we once had to make do with ‘diagnose and treat’. In short, high-quality care is a constantly moving target: to stand still is to fall back. That’s why we need to revive

Overall, the Five Year Forward View has started this journey of change. We have begun to develop a more modern healthcare system that focuses on prevention, which is more integrated and patient-centric. However, there is still a lot to be done to deliver a health and care system fit for the 21st Century. Too often we still operate a sickness service, where resources are heavily weighted in the acute sector, when we should be transitioning to a wellbeing service based on strong foundations of community health and social care.

Technology, science and innovation are our greatest allies in looking to drive these changes in our health care system, as well as the improvements in health outcomes and efficiency that we so desperately need. But, all too often we leave innovation out in the cold. With ground-breaking new digital developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and treatments such as Cell and Gene Therapies fast becoming a reality, we cannot afford to do this any longer.

There has never been a better moment to embrace change for a better, healthier future for the nation. We must now seize this opportunity.

Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham OM KBE PC FRS, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

On the back of the Review Lord Darzi will continue to co-chair IPPR’s programme for Better Health & Care which will look to shape the health and care debate in the years to come.