Delivering effective change in an NHS 70 years young

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John Whelan, Group Editor at Dorson West, writes for Hospital Times from his inpatient bed in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn about the future of the NHS, 70 years young. Its achievements are known around the world but what does the future hold for the National Health Service?

It is a remarkable thought but with all the celebrations around the 70th anniversary of the NHS, an often overlooked early chapter in the story is the element of continuity with the pre-1948 healthcare era. I was born in 1947 – a year before Aneurin Bevan steered his legislation onto the statute book setting up a state-funded health service.

My mother gave birth at home in Hull under the care of her pre-NHS GP, Dr Rymer. Also present were my father and aunt. There was already a family connection with health care because my maternal grandfather was a GP and treated local families for free— a practice adopted by my father’s sister’s husband who qualified as a doctor in the UK and then returned to his home city of Mumbai.

Remarkably, I continue to have both a personal and professional link to the NHS in its 70th year. As I write, I am an inpatient at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings Lynn, using a laptop not a sit-up-and-beg typewriter to write for Hospital Times.

With a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in post, Matt Hancock, it can be expected there will be a renewed focus on technology in the NHS with increasing use of artificial intelligence and robotics. At least as difficult and challenging will be bringing NHS staff and their statutory and other partners into supporting lasting change rather than change for changes sake.

As I sit up in my hospital bed I can see overwhelming evidence that pen and ink and paper records still prevail in many parts of the NHS. There needs to be, over the next 70 years, more progress in all branches of the NHS in adopting state-of-the-art technology.

There is evidence of effective change. The ambulance service which brought me here used an electronic device for recording patient data and history. What is less evident is whether those records were transferred electronically over to the hospital. Indeed, it seems that in feedback the medical professionals used paper-based records which appeared to be extremely inefficient.

No one who has recently experienced inpatient treatment in hospital could doubt the dedication and commitment of NHS staff and their statutory partners; there is plentiful evidence of that here at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, their job would be made so much easier if they had access to some of the technology available both for prevention and treatment. Most importantly there is substantial potential for improving patient outcomes.

It is clear from the pioneering work of NHS Improvement under its new Chief Executive, Baroness Dido Harding, that in many parts of England consultation about lasting change in the NHS is being conducted successfully with community groups, local authorities and the wider public.

In tomorrow’s NHS the healthcare service as a whole will face major challenges with a growing number of elderly people living longer. It must work hard to train staff with the skills needed in the health and care service of the future and improve their morale. Finally, we must make more progress to eliminate health inequalities between north and south, urban and rural and engage effectively with local communities.