As a globally revered institution, the NHS remains one of the world’s most efficient healthcare systems. However, there’s no escaping the reality that there are still substantial opportunities to increase these efficiencies — as just one example, only this month has the purchasing of new fax machines been banned for NHS trusts.
Thankfully, Britain’s home-grown HealthTech startups and scaleups are helping to plug these gaps, supporting the NHS through strategic partnerships, with the likes of Open Bionics creating affordable robotic prosthetics to NHS patients and uMotif bringing high-quality patient data to doctors and clinical researchers. Equally welcome is the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s open use of apps and his promotion of their value in the NHS, befitting his recent policy paper on the future of healthcare.
And he’s not alone. A Deloitte survey found that the UK market size for digital health is £2bn and is expected to grow to £2.9bn by the end of 2018 — predominantly driven by mobile health apps. No doubt that HealthTech is a rapidly evolving market, growth for which is set only to increase, as the combination of an ageing population and cuts to the NHS render technology a pivotal source of savings with new methods of treatment.
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Throughout the UK, health and social care organisations are united in their pressure to deliver greater operational efficiency through digital enablement, efforts for which are scuppered by a reduction in resources — both staffing and financial. Moreover, across the board, there’s an increased pressure to consistently deliver a better service to patients. This is where Britain’s HealthTech small businesses can really add value, offering a helping hand to remove hassle from the NHS and bolster innovation, allowing staff to focus on their vital work.
Still, it’s crucial to remember that startups and scaleups — brilliant as they may be — are not enough. To address the increasing strain on the NHS at a foundational level, there needs to be much more than just ‘an app for that’. Video consultations and algorithm-fuelled chatbots are all well and good, but their benefits can’t be harnessed if their data is transmitted across copper cables — infrastructure that dates all the way back to the nineteenth century.
Instead, truly integrated care across the NHS requires relieving it of a legacy network, swapping it out for one that’s encrypted, reliable, flexible, and future-proofed — the only way to handle our data deluge. In the UK, it’s no secret that data communication is now a fundamental component for the smooth running of hospitals, GPs, and other organisations within our health and social care system. Clinical data, patient records, and appointment systems require a high speed network that’s wholly robust to transfer information between different departments and hospital sites.
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While startup-style services are helping to propel the NHS into the future, technology itself is not a silver bullet — certainly not when transmitted on legacy infrastructure. To combat this, NHS organisations should partner with an appropriate provider that understands their requirements and can create a bespoke communications infrastructure with the bandwidth and speed flexibility to enable them to scale up — if and when they want to — without increasing their future costs.
With the help of a dedicated private network, these organisations can streamline their services, delivering the capacity, speed — potentially to the tune of 100 Gbps — and resilience that they need. For the NHS, the benefits of this approach are countless — in the UK, each hospital might treat well over a million patients every year, which papers and fax simply cannot support in this day and age.
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As long as infrastructure constraints continue to hinder current models of health and social care, so will the wellbeing of NHS patients and staff alike suffer. What’s more, UK HealthTech startups and scaleups won’t be able to maximise their impact on our public sector. It’s all too clear that health innovations are vital for future-proofing an efficient service delivery for the NHS. Advances in digital health have the potential to help increase access, decrease healthcare system costs, and improve health outcomes — but only if the right infrastructure is in place to support this activity.
Instead, by harnessing the power of information and technology through infrastructure, NHS organisations can embrace the opportunity of transforming health and social care. Only once these foundations have been laid can the NHS reap the rewards of the shiny collaborative technologies dangled by Britain’s burgeoning HealthTech small businesses. Not only will this make each patient’s experience better, but it will also ultimately save lives, allowing NHS staff to focus on their vital work.
Written by Afshin Attari, Director of Public Sector at Exponential-e