Like many, I am enamoured by our healthcare system. I have a true sense of national pride for the NHS but I'm also aware that it's facing some very real and challenges. Just a flick through the news over the last few weeks gives me a growing impression that what was once a near perfect concept is indeed in times of difficulty. Many perceive the NHS as technologically behind and all it takes is a short visit to the doctors to see that our healthcare system is hardly an example of cutting edge modernity. So what is the future of the NHS? As many patients opt for private healthcare how can our national hospitals and clinics catch-up? Is the NHS ready to step up and once again take it's place as an international example of health innovation?
We heard the first few whispers of reform towards the end of a very busy 2012, when David Cameron announced new plans to invest £100 million into genetic research. More specifically, the plan involved the sequencing of 100,000 genomes of people suffering from cancer or rare diseases - very ambitious indeed, considering that the first human genome took scientists from 20 different countries roughly 10 years to sequence, at a cost of approximately $2.7 Billion. Today it can be done in 27 hours with one scientist, and plans are in place to develop methods in which it can be done even faster.
This new drive towards obtaining biological data is certainly refreshing. It is one of the world's biggest efforts to date to harness the growing knowledge about people's genetic profiles. The 100k project, undertaken by Genomics England, could lead to a better understanding of cancers, as well as other rare conditions. It is completely voluntary, relying solely on the curiosity of the British public. If we can achieve this great feat and encourage further participation based on its success, it could pave the way for such biological data to be interpreted for other forms of healthcare.
The optimism of 2012 was extended to January 2013 by an announcement by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, informing us that in addition to the Prime Minister’s grand scheme of sequencing, the NHS would also look to go completely paperless by 2018. This would mean a seismic shift from tradition, by the adoption of an Electronic Healthcare Record system. Now we may still be scarred from the failings of the transition to EHR of 2010, considered one of the most expensive IT blunders in history, but after much hypothetical number crunching by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a few more very important meetings, the potential savings were calculated. According to the figures, as much as £4.4Bn could be put back into the NHS with better use of information technology!
So how does the UK size-up in comparison with the rest of the world? If we look across the world for inspiration, we come across some very interesting observations...
1) The first country in the world to implement a nationwide EHR system in 2008 was Estonia.
2) The United States has a 28% EHR adoption rate, in contrast to the Netherlands who have 98%.
3) Arab Health Awards 2010 recognizes Saudi Arabia National Guard Health Affairs for greatest advancement in EHR development
If we look at the relative successes of the participants, we can see the true benefits of a centralised system. Information is easily accessible which will inevitably lead to increased efficiency and time management within a nationwide framework. This will give physicians more time with their patients, and less time filling out forms. With the NHS catering for 100% of the population it would be the largest database of e-health records in the world -a true claim to being the world’s best.
The most recent boost in the pursuit of supremacy for the NHS came as recently as a few months ago. We saw the new chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, highlight the importance of Personalised Medicine, and urge the service to become a world leader in the ‘global medical revolution’. Mr Stevens, who’s impact at the NHS has recently been compared to that of Arsenal playmaker Mesut Özil, believes strongly in the new genome programme, mentioned above, and will invite teaching hospitals and clinical research centres to sign up. He went on to say how the NHS will be "rigorously pro-science, pro-research and pro the rapid spread of useful improvement". Although it may seem like a long shot, if we can achieve the targets set out, we would be at the pinnacle of developing research.
So it seems the next few years will be key in determining not only the survival of the NHS but also it's ability to once again be a global example of a revolutionary healthcare system. At Geneix we are full of hope and expectation for the future - with Mr. Stevens steering the way forward the NHS has every chance of succeeding.