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Investment in people as vital as the technologies which will enable them

David Roots, Executive Director, Health & Care, Civica, discusses the future development path for the NHS on its 70th anniversary

The NHS is an institution we can all be proud of. It currently deals with more than one million patients every 36 hours, a staggering statistic. While the number of patients seen and treated – without charge – on a daily basis is the hallmark of what makes the NHS a source of national pride, many of the perennial issues that afflict the service stem from operational inefficiencies that arise due to outdated practices.

With funding under constant pressure and workforce shortages presenting significant challenges as demand inevitably increases, improving efficiency will be a critical element of service sustainability.

The NHS is striving for a better system that not only responds to pressures but can also innovate to reduce them. Technology has an important role to play in achieving this, supporting more efficient care pathways, providing clinicians and care workers with the information they need at the point of care and using data to better effect, in both prevention and cure.

The recognition of the important part that technology has to play is widely recognised, highlighted in the Carter Review and extolled by Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt; however, the adoption has been slow. Funding has been promised then withdrawn, initiatives have faltered and NHS organisations still struggle to clearly define what they need and then conclude procurement. As important as the funding and a clear view of requirements is the ability to successfully implement technology; that demands the time and space for people to understand new systems and adopt new working practices.

Integration of health and social care has long been seen as key to increased efficiency as well as improved, patient-centric care. Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), preceded by Pioneers and Vanguards, are intended to deliver such improvements but they, too, will need funding for technology and the means to implement it if they are to succeed. Bringing together patient information from disparate systems so that it can be shared by clinicians and care workers across care settings is complex but it is also achievable and essential. Designing new care pathways demands clinical and operational skills and time but will create better patient journeys and reduce service costs. Mobile working in hospital wards and in the community, coupled with devices usable by patients, can have significant positive impact.

As the NHS reaches its 70th birthday, the recent mooting of a ten-year funding plan is welcome. The short-term perspectives and start-stop funding initiatives of recent years have no place in a service as huge, as complex and as important as our cherished health and care service. Sustained investment is needed in both the workforce and technology; the investment in people is as important as the technologies that will enable them to work more efficiently whilst delivering the higher standards of care we all, ultimately, wish to receive.