Skip to content

Digital Health Rewired 2019: NHS digital transformation is ‘on us’

With talks spread across six theatres on the periphery of an exhibition full of companies showcasing the latest digital healthcare solutions, it’s safe to say that there was a lot to take in.

Of course, data and AI were hot topics and Dr Ben Goldacre, senior clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford, gave attendees plenty to ruminate during his keynote ‘Better Care, Better Data’. He argued that data analytics, as it stands, is in fact broken and warned that the current system is far too focused on academic pursuit rather than actionable insight.

Meanwhile, Dr Doug Gurr, chairman of British Heart Foundation, brought more positivity to the room, with his views that data science will be transformational in the healthcare sector, but only if there are the right prerequisites in place – great medical scientists, great data, high- quality data sets, consent and money.

As is so common with digital health shows, many speakers during the day spoke of a feeling that we are at a crunch point for digital technology in the healthcare sector, although they recognise the sector – and the NHS in particular – faces many challenges. But there was undoubtedly excitement and positivity –  reflected somewhat by the business on the showfloor, that was sustained right up until closing.

However, it couldn’t go unnoticed that there were very few of the typical global healthcare players pitched up at the exhibition; the absence of Cerner, DXC, Epic and IBM Watson Health meant that the show put many suppliers – who can often find it a challenge to make their mark on a crowded showfloor on a more level playing field, unshackled from the burden of overbearing stands taking up large amounts of floor space.

Data sharing, open records and interoperability were, as expected, core to discussions throughout the day. Various speakers shared their real-life experiences to illustrate just how high the stakes.

Dr Tamara Everington, CCIO of Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, shared the story of Nick, a 57-year-old man with cerebral palsy who was cared for by his elderly mother. She explained how Nick was frightened of needles and so when offered long-term anticoagulation to prevent further blood clots which needed to be administered intravenously, he declined. When Nick fractured his leg and was admitted to hospital, nobody contacted his GP, his paper notes weren’t available and nobody checked the Care and Health Information Exchange (CHIE). Nine days after he was admitted, Nick died from a massive lung clot.   

She stated that “we are failing our staff and failing our patients every time we make it difficult to share crucial healthcare data”. But, of course, it’s not simply a case of sharing data. All too often the systems in place in the various healthcare settings don’t talk to each other and this is a crucial challenge that NHSx wants to overcome.

Stepping in for Matt Hancock, who was called away to attend with Brexit negotiations, Hadley Beeman, Chief Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, outlined the vision for NHSx and the ambition to bring together the cultures of technology and healthcare. She recognised the need for common open standards to achieve interoperability but reassured that NHSx would not be micro-managing local implementation and that local NHS teams can buy whatever they want from whomever they want. She also recognised the unnecessary hurdles that companies face when trying to get NHS organisations to embrace their technology and that providers shouldn’t have to pitch proven digital health solutions to each trust separately.

She went on to say how there is a need to bring health and technology together for the future of care, stating that new tech isn’t about gadgets, it’s about people and their needs.

Throughout the day, there were rallying calls to “act now” and that “strategy is delivery” because you can do all the planning in the world, but if you don’t or can’t deliver then it isn’t strategic. In the afternoon’s keynote, Dr Ali Parsa, CEO of Babylon Health, challenged the room to focus on where the world is going rather than where it has been, stating that digital transformation is in our hands – “it’s on us”

The Rewired Hack and the PitchFest that we sponsored demonstrated that there is plenty of entrepreneurial spirit to channel into healthtech solutions that can make a real positive impact on patient experience and the NHS. If we can find a way to overcome some of the challenges that were discussed today, and based on the conversations that we heard there is a genuine drive to do this, then we really could be at the dawn of a new era of healthtech in the NHS.