Health in the 2020s: a ‘prevention decade’ in health

January 13, 2020


Much has been made of Dominic Cummings early year blog-post asking for ‘misfits’, ‘policy experts’ and ‘weirdos’ to join him in the new Government to solve some of the country’s most complex problems. Cummings will no doubt be hoping that this new force can work with him and the No 10 team to address some of the challenges facing our NHS and social care system (so clearly seen in the winter stats last week); particularly through embracing the exciting scientific and technological opportunities that are emerging.

So far No 10 action on this agenda has taken the form of £900m to harness the power of NHS data and a £250m commitment to a new Artificial Intelligence Lab. Matt Hancock himself used his first spell as Secretary of State to prioritise the uptake of digital technologies in the NHS through the creation of a new central unit, NHSX.

Whilst the NHS grapples with a lack of staff, as noted in our People’s NHS report, the potential for the latest devices, data, artificial intelligence and processing power to support faster and better decision making has not only immense long term potential but also clear short term need.

The positive news is that the ability to deliver this transformation is now with us. The new year started with news that Google and Cancer Research UK had created an AI tool that is more effective than a single radiologist. NHS England in one of its first policy announcements confirmed that new born babies, identified as being at risk, would be genetically screened for rare diseases.

The rise of artificial intelligence, genomics and personalised medicine has an ability to significantly transform the way healthcare is managed and delivered. A model that puts the citizen in greater control of their health and care needs and supports staff to deliver better care for patients.

At his first keynote address before Christmas at Policy Exchange the Health and Social Care Secretary restated his strong belief in the importance of a proactive, technology based prevention agenda:

‘Because I want us to seize this opportunity and over the next decade, by 2030, have an NHS where everyone is empowered and supported to stay healthy and out of hospital wherever possible…

Where people have more control over their personal healthcare, and technology enhances the ability of staff to care.’

He went on to call for the 2020s to be a ‘decade of prevention of ill health’.

This vision of prevention, based on individual empowerment through unleashing the power of new technologies for all is a modern approach to public health policy; particularly when backed up with further progress on more traditionally structured state-wide interventions on obesity and smoking (where Hancock re-iterated his plan for the country to go smoke free by 2030).

Such a strategic approach, balancing the individual and the state was seen in the Prevention Green Paper published last July and which the Government is due to respond to in the coming months. With the Conservative manifesto light touch on public health, it is the green paper template which provides the platform for further policy development in the months ahead.

As a new decade opens there is new hope for changes to public health policy.

Where investment in prevention is prioritised and supported by the latest data, technology and information. An approach that connects to an NHS where care is more integrated through primary care networks and population health management approaches that are starting to underpin emerging integrated care systems. And where public policy decisions in other areas, from housing to infrastructure, from schools to transport have a greater health and wellbeing dimension.

The Government is right to prioritise the NHS for investment, but it needs to ensure that the money delivers. New radical thinking from ‘weirdos’, ‘misfits’ and ‘experts’ on prevention and technology could be a good place to start.

Richard Sloggett is  a Senior Fellow and Health and Social Care Lead at Policy Exchange. Richard is former Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

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