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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. Why Medical Technology Should be at the Heart of the NHS’s Long-Term Plan

The NHS faces some significant challenges over the coming decade. Already buckling under the strain of increasing budget deficits and mounting staff shortages, the service faces growing pressure from an ageing population and a funding gap between anticipated demand and what the service can deliver of £30 billion by 2020.

Efforts to remedy the situation have included a savings target of £22 billion, and a wholesale review of the health service’s long-term strategy. Whether these measures will be enough to build an NHS fit for the future remains to be seen. However, growing evidence is pointing towards the use of tried and tested medical technology as a way of alleviating long-term pressure on NHS budgets, improving outcomes for patients, and delivering tangible benefits to society.

A key study by the Medical Technology Group – Keeping Britain Working – found that savings of nearly £500 million – alongside better outcomes for around a quarter of a million people – could be generated from the use of just eight existing treatments. These include implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs), hip replacements, fibroid embolisation, and quicker diagnosis of sepsis. With over half a million different technologies currently available, these examples represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet uptake of medical technology within the NHS is not as good as it could be and often lags behind other Western European economies. The 44 regional NHS plans are evidence of this; analysis by the MTG has revealed that just four of the plans incorporated any meaningful reference to the use of innovative technology.

So where are the barriers?

There are a number of issues. Firstly, technology is wrongly perceived as cost driver. As a result, it is often rationed by Commissioners, eager to make short term savings to their budget in favour of treatments that frequently cost more over the long term. Then, there are perverse incentives which fail to benefit the budget holder if the impact of the investment is felt in another part of the system.

The MTG, along with the invaluable support of its partners such as the ABHI, is determined to address these issues, championing the role of medical technology and recommending ways in which the NHS can embed its adoption into its culture. Among the solutions we believe will enable this are tracking the use of technology across the NHS, greater awareness for clinical professionals, closer working relationships and integration between different NHS organisations to avoid budget silos, and the appointment of a Medical Device Officer in every region. Above all, we are calling for the wider benefits of medical technology, to society and to patients, to be examined more closely when making investment decisions.

Overcoming the barriers within the NHS won’t be easy, but it is essential if the health service, our wider economy, and most importantly patients, are to feel the true extent of the potential benefit of medical technology in the future.

Barbara Harpham, Chair, the Medical Technology Group