Ahead of launching their report for 2022, the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences commission hosted a discussion in partnership with Chamber UK to talk about the work the commission has done over the past year and their plans for the future.
The discussion was hosted by Lord James O’Shaughnessy, the Co-Chair of the Commission, and he was joined by a host of experts in the field. Before taking a seat in the House of Lords and becoming one of the UK’s leading policy advisors, James was a Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care, making his transition to Co-Chair of the commission a natural one.
The discussion started with a message from Steve Brine, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford and the newly elected Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee. The work of the committee obviously has significant overlap with that of the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission so he was an ideal opening speaker at the event.
As Co-Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, it’s important that you have certain priorities and goals. For Steve, it’s cancer and he was very passionate about this even before undertaking this role.
Earlier this year, he brought a bill to parliament which sought to increase uptake on NHS Breast Screening Programme appointments and now he’s looking at other ways to improve cancer outcomes. He said:
“It’s no secret that my priorities are cancer and prevention. I made this clear in my pitch when I stood for chair and I’ve reiterated it many times since. These are subjects that I care about strongly – both from my experience in parliament as a Public Health Minister and sadly, my personal experience.”
In the new year, we’re going to be looking at a big prevention inquiry around something I call “future cancer”. At the moment we try and diagnose early, and that’s clearly critical, but that’s symptom-led diagnosis. We now have the ability to get upstream of that and if we can do that then we can save many more lives.
Mr Brine believes that an important step to take to produce better outcomes for all patients is to get on board with health innovation. In that respect, he thinks that there is a lot of “synergy” between the work of the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission and his Committee:
“Health innovation is at the heart of our current inquiries. One of the two main inquiries which I inherited from Jeremy Hunt is digital transformation in the NHS. This inquiry explores the use of digital technology, examining how it needs to change in order to deliver an improvement in services and outcomes for patients.
We are looking at the key aspects of NHS digital transformation such as digitalising health and care records so they can be accessed across primary, secondary and social care and by primary I mean pharmacy as much as a general practice.
We’re also going to be looking at how to prevent digital health inequalities and informing patients of the benefit of a digital approach to healthcare.”
The vast majority of the people in the United Kingdom won’t have had the NHS app prior to the cornavirus pandemic. However, almost overnight, the app became a necessity due it being the repository for COVID passports.
With that being said, that section of the app is the only section that is of any use to people in the United Kingdom but Mr Brine believes that could all about to change:
“When we return in January, we’re going to be looking at the NHS app, which I think has wonderfully great potential. It’s clear to us that remote monitoring and care for some long-term conditions enabled people to manage their health effectively during the pandemic and therefore, minimising the need for in-person appointments.
That is a legacy of the pandemic that I want to see continue – we’ve already heard that these products and services have got an important role to play long-term in reducing the need for face-to-face service and appointments which can be time-consuming, expensive and not the way some people want to manage their health.
For example, we’ve heard about innovative projects such as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s “Breathe” project which uses an app to collect and monitor health measurements from patients. As well as allowing patients to monitor their health from home, the Trust is also investigating whether it’s possible to predict symptom flare-ups days before they come on. This could have implications for the way that condition is managed.”
Another innovation that intrigues and excites Mr Brine is the rise of virtual services in healthcare. Last year, £36 million was pumped into developing AI technologies which will hopefully revolutionise our health service. One beneficiary of this funding is the health tech company, Healthy.IO, which Steve speaks about in a positive light:
“Funding has allowed Healthy.io to develop a product that allows smartphone to undertake urinalysis so that patients with type 2 diabetes can check their kidney health at home. This is excellent and further evidence of how virtual services can offer a more efficient and convenient alternative to physical services.
We’ve also heard about how an online pharmacy, which works alongside the NHS, dispenses around 1.5 million repeat prescriptions per month directly to people’s homes. That is the same efficiency as around 200 brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
For Mr Brine, health innovation is clearly a crucial building block for a functioning NHS. Before he had to leave the discussion to cast a vote in the House of Commons, he praised the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission for their “important work” and looked forward to working alongside them next year.