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The NHS: a digital experience

The NHS has recently launched its long term plan, with patients getting more options, better support and properly joined up care at the right time and in the best setting, at its very heart. However, to achieve this, the fundamental NHS model needs revising, as it is still by and large based on the original model devised in 1948, with small changes along the way, rather than any wholesale change.

The long term plan to help with hospital waiting lists, is that other healthcare resources are utilised more, like social care. In essence, stop people needing hospitals in the first place. But to do this properly back office workflows and infrastructure needs to be interoperable so the care and sharing of information is transferable. It will also, realistically mean that the widely disliked Health and Social Care Act is repelled. Funding for community and primary care will grow faster than hospital budgets.

The focal point in recent years has been to make the NHS digital at the point of care, which in essence simply means for patients to have a digital experience. This doesn't mean that the NHS is digital. There is no directive to make behind the scenes a slick, digital, machine. But in all seriousness, it is that sort of fundamental change and commitment which makes long term savings, but also long term success. Making the front end hide a multitude of sins, is best used as a short term fix, not a long term solution. And now with RPA and AI you don't necessarily need to install all new systems to do this. The power of AI is that it can make systems talk to each other, bringing back to life databases that worked in a silo from everything else, or systems that you had thought were no longer useable.

The NHS plans to have a digital front door where you can get problems checked out, hoping it will prevent some people going straight to A&E when they can't see a doctor immediately. The plan suggests this will save £1bn in hospital visits. You'll be able to do genetic testing, get mental health support for children at schools, as well as a big emphasis on diagnostic and testing to pick up cancer early.

Another priority is solving the NHS staffing crisis, with 100,000 vacancies currently. Although not outlined in detail, we expect a workforce strategy later this year, where surely the impact of Brexit will be covered.

In 2017 Theresa May declared a 3.4% annual budget increase for the NHS as its 70th birthday present, amounting to what she said was £20.5bn over five years. However, since this declaration the government has made cuts to public health spending which means the true increase in health spending in 2019-20 is just 2.7% (according to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute of Fiscal Studies). So in reality as the strain on the NHS becomes larger, it is still in reality about doing more with less.


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