Private Health

Why the NHS finance gap should not be ignored

By: James Norman, UK Public Sector CIO at EMC
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 09:19 GMT Jump to Comments

In recent news, David Nicholson - former NHS England chief - discussed the lack of efficiency savings in the NHS.

It’s evident that the NHS faces a significant financial challenge, whatever the outcome of the next election may be. However, it is concerning that even with the election drawing closer, there still doesn’t seem to be a solid solution to preserve the future of the NHS.

Allocating set funds is only the start of addressing the problem – what is needed is the infrastructure behind it to ensure further efficiency savings and a new way of working.

The reality is that there are huge opportunities for improving patient care and driving efficiencies in healthcare through better use of data.

Technology will sit at the heart of this efficiency drive and the broader transformation programme.

We are currently living in a digitally enabled information generation, and therefore significant technological advancements need to be made in order to meet customer expectations for more convenient, personal and efficient services. 

Patients want more control of their own health and wellbeing, and digital technology has the power to change the relationship between patients and their GP practice by enabling patients to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online, for example.

The NHS role needs to shift from being an institution focussed on treating chronic conditions, to one that uses data-sharing and analytics, collaboration and digital healthcare practices to deliver predictive and preventative healthcare services.

Ultimately, this would help move the NHS from an illness to a wellness model. However, it seems that no one, or no political party, is biting the bullet and taking the lead. So how can technology and data be used to help close this funding gap?

Adopting the Wellness Model

Many of the changes needed in the NHS will centre on a more patient-centric system that is primarily set up for preventing people from getting ill in the first place, rather than treating them after.

The key to enabling this ‘wellness’ model is the use of data analytics and modern technology, including the use of much vaunted ‘wearables’ and connected eHealth technology.

This data can be used to create a more predictive and personalised healthcare model, and contribute vital data to medical research. Overall this will deliver a more positive patient experience, whilst also driving cost efficiencies.

Informatics can now identify the factors that put the patient at high risk of developing a condition and help tackle it before it strikes.

As an example of this in practice, informatics technology has been used in Scotland to provide an integrated care model for the treatment of diabetes.

This collaborative data-driven project has yielded impressive results with the incidence of lower extremity amputation decreasing by 30 percent over four years and major amputations falling by 40.7 percent.

Predictive data analytics

A report from EMC and Volterra highlighted the need for acceleration in the uptake of data analytics techniques and technologies to drive £16bn or more in efficiency savings to plug the NHS funding gap.

The report exposes the gap between the NHS and other industries in its use of data analytics and technology, adding to the body of evidence that shows that the current patchwork efforts to maintain the NHS are unsustainable.

The lack of electronic records, predictive analytics, collaboration and effective monitoring of patient and treatment outcomes, in addition to personalised care, is leading to failures and financial inefficiencies that are unsustainable in the long-term.

However, there are pockets of excellence across the UK where data analytics has been effectively employed to deliver better quality of care for patients. If these examples were implemented nationally this would result in savings of:

£840 million per year due to a reduction in A&E attendances
£200 million per year through reduced complications due to diabetes
£126 million per year through better care management for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Up to £32 million per year through the reduction of readmission rates
£5 billion of savings in staff time through more efficient working practices

The short and medium term focus

Drastic action needs to be taken now. The government needs to enforce a more joined-up system to drive interoperability of patient records and better use of the valuable information and insights generated.

The NHS sits on a vast amount of data already, but it needs to be used proactively and in a tailored fashion. Putting the correct infrastructure in place to drive data analytics to generate tangible results can provide a significantly more efficient NHS.

The NHS still does not recognise the importance IT transformation has to play in closing the financial gap. With funds for additional staff needed now, this should not be at the expense of IT investment – an area that has continually been put on hold.

In addition, we’re seeing the role of the IT director dissipating in health, and yet it is being strengthened in other cabinet departments. This is something that needs to change to ensure IT transformation has a key role to play in closing the financial gap.

The NHS finance problem should not be ignored. There are substantial savings that can be made through using technology and by adopting a wellness approach.

IT transformation in the NHS needs to be part of the political parties’ short and medium term plan. Fundamental reforms are required to preserve the NHS and it is important that the political parties recognise the need to help the NHS and understand the opportunity to drive smart ways of working.

Ensuring the right infrastructure is in place will not only change outdated working practices, but will enable further efficiency savings to be made.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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