In the maelstrom of an election we hear a lot about the future of the NHS and I welcome Labour’s firm commitment to increase nurse numbers, reduce waiting lists and ensure easy access to GP appointments.
But below the frenzy about top level funding, there are huge possibilities for improving access, increasing efficiency and improving patient experiences. The expertise of our tech sector means we could have a win win win: easier access and more convenience for patients; cost savings and a chance to boost jobs and exports.
As the MP for Shoreditch I regularly met entrepreneurs and start-ups which were leading the world in how to apply technology across a range of sectors. With the ageing population in most of Europe and greater demands on healthcare it makes sense to look to technology to help patients and clinicians.
Tele-health is a necessity in parts of the world, providing people in remote communities, with limited access to primary care, opportunity to receive information and advice direct to their mobile phones.
Closer to home Denmark is embracing new health technologies with zeal. The Patient briefcase is a simple computer which allows the patient to link from home to hospital. They can speak to their specialist nurse via video while breathing into the apparatus to send their lung function results. For routine checks, this saves travel and waiting times and allows the nurse to see more patients.
In social care one city is experimenting with home care by video. Client feedback has been positive – many prefer a proper conversation with their home carer for 15 minutes than a rushed visit from a carer anxiously looking at their watch. From the carer’s point of view, they can see and speak to the patient and quickly gauge if there is a need for a home visit.
Technology can play a role in supporting people to live in their homes longer – with GPS monitors for dementia patients (a friend who is in the early stages of dementia and is afraid of losing her freedom is excited by the prospect), and everything from the controversial smart nappies to tech aids to getting out of bed safely.
But while Denmark is partly pursuing these and other new tech solutions to save money, it is also aggressively pursuing the job opportunities available globally.
The UK has adopted a similar model but we still make it much harder for new technology to be adopted within the NHS, which is a first step to boosting jobs in the sector. While I share concerns about private providers replacing NHS frontline staff, the private sector has a role in providing equipment and innovation in this sphere.
I want a future Labour government to promote the best of tele health and new technologies for patients as part of our drive to improve the NHS but also as part of our industrial strategy. We have slipped behind the world in bringing green initiatives to market let’s not lose the opportunity in health tech.