Budget boost for NHS technology – and better outcomes - Bleepa

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Budget boost for NHS technology – and better outcomes

The Chancellor’s announcement of a £3.4 billion funding boost for NHS technology in his Budget is a boost for our sector. It was the perfect backdrop to the Digital Health Rewired conference, attended by the Feedback Medical team last week. It means that the bleak forecasts of unacceptably long waiting times for years ahead are not inevitable. Technology can deliver huge gains in productivity, as we are already showing through our own services, and there is great scope to do even more.

by Nick Mayhew, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer

Budget announcement

The key message of the Budget was that the Government believes that the effective use of technology can make health services more productive. New ways of working can make every health pound go further, reducing waiting times and improving the quality of treatment and prevention.

NHS England made the same argument in last year’s Long Term Workforce Plan. It argued that the NHS should not only train and retain more staff but also use “technological advancement and better infrastructure” to make them much more productive.

The Budget completed the process by allocating funds and setting expectations for big gains in productivity over the next five years:

“This investment in NHS technology will be central to a wider NHS productivity plan including workforce productivity improvements set out in the long term workforce plan. It will mean the NHS can commit to 1.9% average productivity growth from 2025-26 to 2029-30… It will enable delivery of £35 billion of cumulative savings by 2029-30. This represents a substantial increase on historical NHS productivity growth, enabling the NHS to treat patients more quickly and effectively.”

Funding for technology was split into three categories:

  • £2 billion to upgrade existing IT systems and digitise transfers of care, for example between primary and secondary care.
  • £1 billion will reduce time spent on administrative tasks, including the use of AI to carry out back office functions.
  • £430 million will improve the patient experience, for example through improvements to the NHS App.

Cross-party agreement

The five-year horizon for investment will make it easier for firms to plan ahead with confidence. It also helps a lot that there is cross-party agreement about the potential benefits of technology. The Labour Party’s health mission described the future in very similar terms to the Government:

“Harnessing the latest technological advancements can put patients, in partnership with the NHS, in control of their own healthcare, make the most of staff’s talent and time, and make the NHS more efficient for the taxpayer.”

What we can do – and why long waiting times are not inevitable

The statistics on waiting times are daunting. The latest NHS England data shows that the overall list remains stubbornly high at around 7.6 million. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that waiting lists will remain high well into the next Parliament:

“In the central scenario that we judge most likely, waiting lists would start to fall consistently but slowly from the middle of 2024. But even by December 2027, the waiting list would still stand at 6.5 million in this scenario, remaining far above pre-pandemic levels [of 4.9 million].”

But these predictions are based on current models of service. New technology, including our own, can transform productivity and outcomes. As the APPG for Diagnostics recently reported in its study of community diagnostic centres (CDCs), our pilot with the Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex reduced patient waiting times for patients in the breathlessness pathway by 69 per cent.

Bleepa and CareLocker are good examples of the Budget’s first and second categories for investment. They allow much better communication between clinicians in different settings, and they hugely reduce time taken for clinicians to share and discuss images and results.

Unlocking NHS productivity – the example of CDCs

And there is much more that can be done. The APPG report found that the rate of progress of CDC activity has been slow. On the latest figures, CDCs have carried out 7 million tests since July 2021, against a target of 17 million by March 2025.

CDCs have seen a wonderful capital investment but not yet the investment into digital infrastructure that will drive the kind of results that we have seen at Queen Victoria Hospital. I would argue that dedicated funding for digital infrastructure is now needed.

Conclusion

The investment announced in the Budget is a chance for our sector to show what we can do. The dry ambition of improved productivity actually means faster and better diagnosis and treatment for hundreds and thousands of people. Unlocking the potential of CDCs is just one way in which these goals can become a reality.

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