The overall theme of the UK e-health conference (3 – 4 May 2017) was the use of data, IT and tech to transform health and care. It was great to see the energy and activity going on in this space and, undeniably, there is more emphasis and interest in health-tech in the NHS than ever before.
I attended sessions from the perspective of entrepreneurial health-tech, looking for clarity on where and how the NHS is expecting and encouraging the use of innovative new tech. There was a lot that was positive and pleasing, but I always seem to come away from events like this reminded that the NHS is unlike any other business I know and whilst the gulf between the private sector and the NHS is narrowing, there remain significant attitudinal and cultural impediments to collaboration.
For instance, I really like the ambitions of the NHS Test Beds (https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/…) project, particularly as it is trying to help innovation get “into” the NHS. This is a two-year programme that kicked off in March 2016. We heard from the coordinators that all the projects have taken longer to get started than expected, citing delays caused by contract negotiations, “cultural challenges of working together”, information governance and staffing issues. This makes my heart sink. How can SME tech business work in a situation of over twelve months relative inactivity? This, taken with the height of the evidence bar is set by NHS commissioners, skews everything in favour of larger companies who have a depth of resources to survive the process of trying to work with the NHS to get to the prize of actually doing so.
So my feedback to the NHS Test Bed team is please review and learn not only from the healthcare outcomes of this project but also from the process itself. What can you do to lessen the red tape? What can you do to capture and share the logistical and structural learnings so mistakes aren’t repeated? What insights can you share that can be fed back into the tech development loop so that we are ever designing a better user experience? How can you make the process of trying to work with the NHS and social care less time-consuming? And finally, what can you do to change the prevailing attitude that companies in the private sector can easily deliver to the NHS exacting standards? Small UK health tech companies are not awash with cash and if you don’t help them with things like Information Governance, then the paperwork will just grind innovation to a halt.
I recognise the need to change attitude and culture cuts both ways, and I acknowledge how disrespectful it can be to have a naive health tech business approach the NHS saying “this is what the NHS needs’ without having a genuine depth of understanding. So, in my view, if everyone involved in this sector worked a bit more on being flexible and understanding with each other (dare I say, be just slightly less up ourselves?) then we might get things done a bit more quickly. For health tech businesses the best way to do this is to engage directly with the NHS and there are many access points these days, from the Academic Science Networks (http://www.ahsnnetwork.com/) to the Innovation Connect programme (https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/…) and the NHS accelerators (http://digitalhealth.london/acceler…).
My grateful thanks to the organisers and sponsors of UK e-health week (http://ukehealthweek.com) as the sessions I attended were very informative.