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Health Plus Care review

Health Plus Care

26-27 June 2019 | ExCeL London Conference Centre  

Health Plus Care is badged as the largest annual integrated healthcare event in the UK, packed full of senior NHS and Care Sector leaders, and this year was no different – thousands of people poured into the ExCeL London Conference Centre to make this year’s event the largest gathering of health and care professionals the UK has ever seen.

The line-up – 9/10

Day One:

  • Simon Eccles, Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHSX 
  • Rachel Dunscombe, CEO/Global Collaborative Lead, NHS Digital Academy/Klass Research
  • Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Health, Department of Health and Social Care 
  • Hadley Beeman, Chief Technology Advisor, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 

Day Two: 

  • Tara Donnelly, Chief Digital Officer, NHSX 
  • Sam Shah, Director of Digital Development, NHSX 
  • Mathew Gould, Chief Executive Officer, NHSX 

Health Plus Care ran just one week before the official launch of NHSX – and boy did it show. The billing was littered with big names and shiny new job titles, which all made for quite the spectacle. Everyone wants to learn more about the newest quango on the block and, for that reason alone, we’ve scored this line-up highly. 

Footfall & Audience – 10/10

It was busy. Really busy. Thousands of visitors from the NHS, local government, care homes and voluntary sector made travelled to East London for this year’s event. And, from the moment I arrived, the gangways were flooded with people, while sessions at Digital Transformation stages 2 and 3 were often – if not always – well overcapacity. 

The conference was divided into four seperate shows – the Healthcare Show, the Digital Healthcare Show, the Resisdential & Home Care Show and the IPC & Patient Safety Show – which allowed for plenty of cross-pollination and resulted in diverse range of people navigating the event as a whole. 

Non-NHS delegates were welcome to attend this year’s event, although their tickets came with a hefty cost! In total, event organisers estimate that  6,000 people were in attendance over the course of the two days.

Event management – 8/10

I attended this event as a delegate and the booking process was pretty straightforward. Confirmation of my booking was received promptly and, despite forgetting my ticket on the day, I was able to reprint it (free of charge!) from a machine outside the conference hall. The event was also very well staffed, which made for fewer queues and a more streamlined experience.

The Venue – 7/10

The ExCeL London Conference Centre is a good conference venue: high ceilings, vast space and loads of places to eat and/or drink. After a long day weaving through people and navigating the event, it’s also nice to be able to spill out into the central concourse where things are slightly more relaxed.

As for location, the ExCel can only just about claim to be in London – it takes some Londoners just as long to get to Birmingham – and this might explain the slightly lower footfall on day 2. That being said, it’s not uncommon for attendances to dip on the second day of two-day events.

For me, however, the trip was easy. One change on the Jubilee line from London Bridge and a DLR train to Custom House and I was there (the station may as well be in the ExCeL Centre – it’s that close!).

Content – 8/10

As the Tory leadership contest dominated the discourse of general news media that week, Health Plus Care fittingly kicked off with an issue of maximum uncertainty and, indeed, the problem either Boris or Jeremy Hunt will be tasked to resolve: Brexit. More specifically, how Brexit might impact on the lofty ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP). 

“Most people don’t know what’s going to happen next Thursday”, joked Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell, as he highlighted the absurdity of a 10-year plan when one of the major dependencies of it – our relationship with EU – is still very much unknown. 

What about the supply of pharmaceuticals? Or the thousands of skilled EU workers upon whom the NHS relies? It seems we’re still no closer to an answer. 

But it’s not just Brexit putting the LTP at jeopardy. As Simon Eccles explained: “We don’t have enough money or people to do what we want to do”.  

Speaking at the Digital Transformation 1 theatre, Eccles outlined his guiding principles for the NHS “tech vision” and some of the commitments made as part of the Long Term Plan, including his promise to digitise the NHS by 2024. 

“This is the third time I’ve promised to digitise the NHS with a different deadline, but this time I mean it”, he joked (I think?), before shifting the emphasis of the discussion to talk about NHSX. 

This was the first mention of the exciting new organisation for digital, data and technology. It wouldn’t be the last. 

And one thing’s for sure: NHSX has a hell of a lot of work to do.

“When it comes to technology, the NHS is fragmented, siloed and disconnected – anyone that’s tried to build software for the NHS will know this”, explained Hadley Beeman at the start of her keynote speech. 

Beeman’s solution is for NHSX to make the NHS more like the internet by adopting a “standards-led approach”, whereby developers are given the autonomy to manoeuvre within a set of centrally agreed rules. And she also teased that the Department of Health and Social Care was looking at a “sandbox” approach, drawing inspiration from the Financial Conduct Authority with FinTech firms.

But while Beeman’s big ideas are something to get excited about, it’s important to remember that rhetoric is cheap – and the prospect of delivering them is much more of a challenge. 

And bringing us back down to earth, the new CEO of NHSX, Mathew Gould, said he was nervous about “over-promising” on tech, before outlining the difficulties of convincing a “sceptical” treasury to part with more money.

Other key discussions on the conference floor centred around empowering the workforce, the Topol Review, interoperability, data and AI. 

There was a lot to sink your teeth into.

Networking – 6/10

There was a lack of coffee or catering areas within the exhibition halls, meaning that most networking took place in the catering franchises in the huge concourse areas at ExCel. Indeed, during my visit on day two, I actually caught up with most of my acquaintances outside of the event itself.

The drinks reception towards the end of the Thursday afternoon was well intended – an attempt to keep leg weary delegates and exhibitors within the halls and to provide one last chance to network –  by then, however, that horse had already bolted!

Exhibition – 8/10

With over 200 suppliers in attendance, Health Plus Care has a very large footprint. The Digital Healthcare component being the largest of the four subsections and filled with some industry-leading names.

As is often the case, the second day was quieter than the first, but there were certainly plenty of busy gangways.

As for those exhbiting, the line-up was dominated by larger organisations, with the likes Cerner, Phillips and and Orion amongst some of the heavy-hitters. On the whole, SMEs and start-ups were notably absent from the confrence floor.

In summary

A really good event, which struck the perfect balance between excitement and realism. Every time I got ahead of myself, I was brought back down to earth. But in spite of that, I left ExCeL cautiously optimistic that NHSX might just be the solution to many of our problems. 

Overall Silver Buck rating: