A healthier health sector – time to join the debate?

The recent announcement from Health Secretary Matt Hancock of a wholesale review of the NHS, and the reaction it has generated, has reinforced that there is no easy solution to the problems the health sector faces.

However, it is clear that technology-led innovation will have a massive role to play and there are greater opportunities than ever for businesses to join the discussion and put forward proposals.

Successive governments have tried, and generally failed, to find the silver bullet to a hugely complex problem: managing the health of an ageing nation with finite resources. This Government will be keen to deliver meaningful change.

In his announcement Mr Hancock set out a vision for improving the health of the nation, not just those under the care of health services.  This supports a long-held view in Government that the old adage of ‘prevention is better than cure’ must underpin any future strategy if we are to address the challenges of an ageing population and associated complex health conditions.

The Prime Minister’s own experience of COVID 19 and his belief that his condition was exacerbated by his weight, has brought further focus to this agenda in recent months.

So, what is the Health Secretary proposing in the white paper?

Perhaps the most significant proposal is the idea of a significantly increased role for the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC), and its Secretary of State, in the day-to-day running of the NHS.  This reflects the political scrutiny that the Government constantly faces around healthcare, particularly at a time when backlogs in screening and treatment are significant, and its desire to be able to intervene more directly to address problems.

Aside from this, the proposed reforms fall under three pillars: localising provision to focus on prevention and public health, an increased role for innovative technology, and the expanded roll out of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) through collaboration between the NHS, local authorities, and other health care partners.

Also, significantly for the private sector, the white paper signals a desire to reduce unnecessary tendering for services to ensure that staff are freed up to concentrate on care.  This focus on the tendering process and the need to strike the right balance in the relationship between the public and private sector, will generate considerable scrutiny in the months ahead, particularly in the wake of criticism the Government has faced around public procurement during the pandemic. The increased scrutiny and debate will inevitably impact on businesses operating in this market.

More broadly, the proposed changes are a response to the way that the NHS and its partners have collaborated and embraced innovation throughout the COVID 19 pandemic. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have been particularly keen to trumpet the adoption of innovative technology and practices, particularly in the post Brexit era as they look to showcase the UK globally, and are keen to lock-in the best of these new innovations.

Responses to the white paper, and the steps that Government will take to realise the vision it contains, will dominate a large chunk of political bandwidth in the months ahead. Already the Health Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the white paper, but the public discourse will only intensify as plans become more concrete.

If you have a perspective on what the future should look like and, perhaps most importantly, a solution to any of the challenges the sector faces, now is the time to ensure that your view is heard and understood. Being part of this debate has never been more important than it is now.

If you would like an informal conversation with the health specialists in our public affairs team, to explore the opportunities that the white paper offers your organisation, please email [email protected]

Written by Clova Fyfe, Head of Public Affairs