A lot happened in July 2018. Parks across the land were scorched as the UK basked in a heatwave. Football didn’t come home, but it came (sort of) close. And the NHS celebrated its 70th birthday, marking another decade of service for one of the country’s most important and valued public institutions.
But with this anniversary came a heightened pressure – because the NHS has never been under more strain. A combination of austerity budgets and an aging population means the NHS is struggling to meet the demands placed on it. In response, the government pledged an extra £20.5billion to the service over the next five years. It also asked frontline staff and patient groups to help draw up ‘the NHS Long Term Plan’, with the aim of designing a service fit for the future.
Now, the question is where else can Britain’s most beloved institution find efficiency savings that will ensure its smooth running over the long term.A transformation in patient care
There were a number of responses when staff were asked about their views on the Long Term Plan – including placing a greater focus on mental health and cancer care. But plans also emerged for helping the service to run more smoothly in general. One outcome was a strategy that promised to fundamentally change the way patients access NHS services, with an increased reliance on video link appointments.
By 2024, it’s hoped up to a third of hospital outpatient consultations will be carried out via video link. There are already a number of medical services offering healthcare via video conferencing. From private companies to an NHS app helping patients access GP appointments from the comfort of their own home, end-users (and healthcare practitioners) are slowly adapting to the idea.
If this can be successfully realised, patients could be seen more efficiently, saving time and costs in an organisation that desperately needs more of both. Meanwhile, patients can also benefit, with no need to travel, pay parking charges, or take significant time out of their day.
Obviously, there are numerous conditions that it wouldn’t be appropriate to treat via video link. But it also wouldn’t be appropriate for appointments to be fragmented, disjointed or interrupted – all of which could happen, if the NHS doesn’t have the right connectivity solution to support the new plans.
Digital foundations for the long-term plan
As it stands, many healthcare providers are battling with legacy networks, which aren’t fit for the demands of modern, data-intensive applications. For video appointments to work effectively, NHS trusts have to make sure they have robust data services in place, whether that’s a converged voice and data option, a Unified Communications service integrating all platforms, or an underlying data network sufficient for the demands placed upon it. With experience supporting NHS trusts around the country, a provider like Gamma can advise on the best connectivity solution for any organisation.
Not only will investing in high-performing data services help deliver the Long Term Plan, they can also ensure that healthcare is able to change with the times. For example, more and more services are being delivered via smartphone. Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, predicts that ‘in the NHS of the future, for many conditions you’re going to get NHS support direct from your smartphone or wearable device’. Having the right foundations in place to support this has never been more important.
The new face of the NHS
In time, video appointments (for both hospitals and GPs) will become a standard part of NHS care. Of course, there will always be barriers to such radical transformation – both patients and medical staff can be wary of this sort of change, and there’s no denying the irreplaceable quality of human touch and face-to-face contact. But it isn’t a case of replacing in-person appointments. Instead, it’s a matter of supplementing and complementing existing systems. With that in mind, connectivity shouldn’t be a hurdle to delivering the NHS of the future – instead, it should be the very thing that enables it.