The NHS Confederation 2016 Challenges And Opportunities

The NHS Confederation held its annual conference last week, where leaders from across the health service came together to talk about the strategic way forward.

The word “tough” was a major theme for all of the keynote speakers. 2016 has been difficult for the work-force and the operations of the NHS. With the junior doctors industrial action, and the overall issues faced by healthcare organisations around the UK.

Whilst positive progress has been made over the last six years in increasing capacity in parts of acute care, this has not removed any of the challenges faced by these departments. In fact, these problems have only grown in line with these increases in delivery.

Moving forwards, the NHS is at a crucial period. Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) have been setup across England to help resolve the finance challenges faced by the health service. Simon Stevens stressed that organisations need to use 2016 and 2017 as a reset phase to get finances in a position for the NHS to implement innovation.

The U-shaped funding strategy is front-loaded with a view of enabling the deficit to be resolved, and with remaining money to be used on transformation.

On the topic of meeting some of the challenges faced by the NHS, changes will be coming to the tariff system in April 2017 to enable the use of innovative technologies. These can be any form of tech that can enable cost-savings or improved self-management.

It’s worth noting that this funding will not be limited to digital health products, but also to innovative mechanical aids. Simon Stevens highlighted an inflatable device that can be used to avoid ventilator associated pneumonia within intensive care.

But, this tariff change will not resolve all of the challenges faced by the NHS. Stevens stressed that the NHS needs to be realistic about this. However, it is important to both enable and embrace continued innovation across the health service.

And this has been the consistent message from all speakers at NHS Confederation 2016: there are numerous challenges, resolving these challenges is going to be tough, and there is no single solution. There are plenty of angles that can be taken to resolving the problems the NHS faces, from effective financial management, great leadership, improvement of staff well-being, as well as the use of innovative technology.

Good digital health solutions can bring very positive change to the NHS. But, lessons need to be learned from the failings of the past. User experience needs to be key to all software, patients need to be more empowered, self-management of long term conditions needs to be enabled, and more solutions are required to provide decision support to improve service quality and financial efficiency.

In summary, there was a recognition that the future for the NHS will be tough, that excellent management will be required. However, there is a very practical and realistic opportunity to bring about the kind of change the NHS needs to make.

However, it’s the implementation phase that the NHS often fails at. But, the NHS seems to be doing a good job of putting great leaders from across health economies in positions of influence to enable the sharing of best practice.

It would seem NHS England realise that if STPs are not a success, if finances are not realigned, and if innovation in delivery is not brought about, the entire health service could collapse.

I think NHS England will not let this happen. There’s going to be very high expectations of NHS leadership, and if these leaders do not perform, they will find themselves out of post quickly enough to ensure the overall improvement is not hindered.

Times are tough, but there is a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.


James Barton

James is a freelance writer and specialist in Digital Health. He brings his perspective as a leader within a reknowned supplier to developments within the healthcare technology industry.

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