The NHS must share problems to make savings

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Last week’s Procurement 4 Health event at Birmingham’s NEC made for a sobering reminder of the depths of the NHS’s financial challenges. The event is mainly aimed at procurement professionals and suppliers working with, or looking to work with the NHS supply chain. The increasing reliance on technology in all aspects of medicine and the recent focus on Cybersecurity made technology a recurrent theme. However, the positive take-away from the day was a strong focus on collaboration and partnerships which, coming from an open source technology background resonates with many of our own views about how to solve big problems.

So how bad is it?

In the words of Chris Calkin, Senior Consultant at IMD Consultancy, “It’s worse than the numbers look.” The opening keynotes put some of the challenges in perspective. Whilst the deficit has reduced, this is masked by a capital cash injection in year 1 of a 5 year plan. Whilst this cash has been banked, the next 5 years look correspondingly bleak.

How can technology help? 

MedTech is a huge growth area and the development of technical advances in medicine has huge potential to positively impact both cost savings and quality of care. Gary Welch from the Shelford Group of the top 10 teaching hospitals, explained the importance of focussing on value not price. Even if improvements in MedTech achieve a 100% cost reduction of surgical products and consumables, it would only represent a 5% budget saving. 

So the important part isn’t reducing the cost, but improving value and cost savings on the wider operational costs. Quicker recovery rates and higher throughput are essential, given that so much of the NHS cost lies in its estates and staffing.  One of many examples given was that achieving greater efficiency in staff rotas and scheduling could save the NHS as much as £2bn. 

Collaboration is key


These are areas where collaboration and problem solving can include wider software and technology companies. The scope for artificial intelligence and interoperable software solutions or just thinking about data problems differently requires opening up these problems transparently and establishing a community of suppliers, rather than simply procuring another off-the-shelf product based on price. 

It’s only through a desire to find solutions and work together in new ways that these big challenges will be resolved. Open Source communities have shown the potential for global collaboration breaking language and cultural barriers - but real incentive must be there, which is not always just financial. Being able to re-use tools and code or offer them as a platform for wider integration means smaller specialist providers, and experts in integration can play a part without having to win or run a single large contract. Interoperability is part of the solution, but transparency and community are equally important. It will, therefore, be interesting to see how recent Digital Outcomes and Specialists opportunities on behalf of NHS Digital moving towards Paperless 2020 play out. I really hope they will throw the doors open wider than ever before in an attempt to save the NHS and us all some cash.

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