By Nicolle Laurie, Consultant, London
The NHS is, coining the words of Jeremy Hunt, becoming a ‘political football’. Over the past few weeks we have watched as Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg play tug of war over who loves it the most.
Since the party conference season has ended Cameron and Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, have been attacked by members of their own front bench, who say the government’s worst mistake whilst in power has been the reorganisation of the NHS. Part of these changes was the promotion of George Freeman MP, who was promoted to Life Sciences Minister. This position is the first of its kind; focusing on genomics, genetics and NHS innovation, to name a few.
Freeman has been speaking abroad and in the UK about the importance of his brief, which stretches across the Department of Health and Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. This morning he addressed leading figures in the digital health technology sector, at the AXA PPP healthcare and 2020 health event being held at the Design Museum in London. The focus of his speech, and others throughout the day was on health technology and its impact on patients and doctors.
Freeman spoke about the importance of genomics and how it underpins research, treatment and care. He said that gone are the days of patients being passive users of the health care system patients can now be an active participant by way of the latest technology – devices that track blood glucose levels by simply swiping it across your arm, or tiny implants that monitor your heart beat. Information from these devices is then fed directly back to the user. This allows the user, or rather the patient, to monitor any pre-existing conditions and highlight any concerns to their GP, directly from the data they themselves have gathered. This is the future of healthcare that Freeman envisages.
Jackie Fielding, VP for Medtronic, spoke about patients with pacemakers having their hearts monitored remotely, no longer needing to spend time sitting in a doctors waiting room – a monitoring system currently used in Southampton. The ability to collect and store a person’s medical information will revolutionise the way in which GPs work; allowing them to instantly pull up a person’s family history that can ensure a faster, more accurate diagnosis, as mentioned by Angus Campbell from IBM.
However, the one area that needs to be considered with all of these technological advances is the storage of data. The government has been calling for patient’s data to be collected, stored and shared in the form of care.data, but people were and are hesitant to allow this. In order for health to become completely digital in the next 5-6 years, a target that Freeman outlined this morning, people must feel that they can trust companies, GPs and the government with their private, medical data; something that the government will have to address.