Chris Green MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Research, believes COVID-19 presents an opportunity for transformative change across the health system, with patients and innovation at the heart of decision-making.
NHS England recently announced they were rolling out a state-of-the-art cancer radiotherapy treatment across the NHS. The treatment, called Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), will be available in every hospital in England by the end of the financial year, and will improve the lives of thousands of cancer patients across the country.
It was a fantastic result of campaigners, and reinforces the undeniable fact that our health service can continue to deliver the very best care for patients, even against the backdrop of the health crisis we find ourselves in. However, this victory for innovation should not stand in isolation, instead it should be seen as just one example of how medical technologies can address the major issues facing the NHS in the post-pandemic landscape.
The new health landscape
Our health service stands hesitantly at a juncture. While there is no doubt COVID-19 has been a heart-breaking and catastrophic period for so many of us across the country, we must ensure that as we rebuild we harness the power of technology and embed positive change. The rapid and radical shake up of the system in recent months has given a chance to re-reshape our health system to make it more clinically effective, cost-efficient, and most importantly, finely tuned to the individual needs of each patient.
Easier said than done, of course. In order to achieve this, we must embrace innovation and place medical technologies at the heart of our solution.
In many ways, we have already been doing exactly this. Over the last few months, medical devices have been front and centre of our response to the pandemic. The onset of the crisis forced the NHS to sweep away resistance to change and, in its place, UK innovation has exploded across our health system. Ventilators have been manufactured by airline industries, while record levels of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been produced distributed in the biggest logistical operation this country has ever known in peacetime.
Now that the danger of the NHS becoming overwhelmed has abated, we must learn our lessons, lick our wounds and look to the future. The restoration of wider NHS services will be a priority for the government; however, it is essential we re-start with the aim of creating a more effective system rather than return to old, outdated methods of the past.
Rebuilding with medtech
A report from the Medical Technology Group, titled, ‘Keep Britain Working’, revealed that just eight medical technologies could save the NHS £476 million per annum in reduced long-term health costs. To put that into perspective, if that money was put back into the NHS, it would pay for 20,000 nurses or 10.5 million GP visits. The argument is compelling, and even more so when you factor in the enormous health benefits these technologies provide to patients.
The current pandemic has shone a spotlight on the direction of travel we need to be heading. Since the beginning of the crisis, there has been a 118% increase in telephone GP appointments, leading to a 70% decrease in face to face appointments. This has freed up healthcare professionals’ time, aided infection prevention, and saved money.
The increase in the remote monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease have also embedded medical technologies at the heart of more efficient patient pathways. The use of continuous glucose monitors by those living with diabetes has seen patients take more of a personal responsibility for their care allowing them to live more independent lives. At the same time, healthcare professionals can view the data from these devices and provide clinical advice remotely, ensuring patients still receive the highest standard of care.
This willingness to deliver care differently should now be encouraged by NHS leaders. Healthcare providers need support, guidance and reassurance from those at the top of the system. Harnessing the potential of innovative technology will require significant changes that will at first seem risky to those delivering care. Inevitably mistakes will be made, but with the appropriate safety nets in place, we can minimise their impact and make great strides forward in the long-term.
There are now countless examples of where the use of technologies in the NHS has improved patient care and saved the taxpayer money. As a party, we have always been a political force who have championed innovation. Now that we find ourselves in a public health emergency, we must again look to ingenuity as part of the solution. So many families have faced tragedy. Given such significant loss, we must not allow ourselves to return to a system of healthcare that was becoming increasingly out of touch with the opportunity supplied by such first-rate medical innovation.