NHS looks to digital and genomics to secure its future

Genomics, digital tech and artificial intelligence are at the forefront of the government’s long term plan for the NHS, unveiled today.

In a statement the health service said it believed the plans would save almost half a million more lives, and would make the NHS ‘fit for the future’ by using the latest technology, such as digital GP consultations for all those who want them.

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised an extra £20.5 billion a year for the NHS by 2023-24, and said the plan would ensure “every pound is spent in a way that will most benefit patients”.

The NHS said it would “open a digital ‘front door’ to the health service,” allowing patients to be able to access health care at the touch of a button.

Late last year NICE published new standards for digital technologies aimed at speeding up their adoption.

Hospitals will look to use cutting edge scans and technology, including the potential use of artificial intelligence, to help over 100,000 more people each year access new, better services in stroke care.

Last year a report found that using AI to diagnose scans for heart disease and lung cancer could save the NHS billions.

In respiratory care, smart inhalers will be piloted and there will be increased investment in earlier detection and better treatment of conditions to reduce hospital admissions.

The plan also aims to provide genetic testing for a quarter of people with dangerously high inherited cholesterol, reaching around 30,000 people.

The NHS added that it will become the first health service in the world to offer whole genome sequencing for children with cancer and young people who have a rare genetic disorder, in addition to adults suffering from certain rare conditions or specific cancers.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “We need to make the best use of the new investment to fundamentally reset how the NHS is run so that our growing and ageing population can get the right care at the right time and in the right place.

“This means breaking down organisational barriers to take a more holistic approach to how care is delivered and paid for, embracing new and existing forms of technology, recruiting and retaining the right number of staff, and shifting the focus away from hospitals to prevention and care in the community.”

But others are sceptical that the plans can be achieved when the NHS is already under increasing strain, particularly with Brexit looming.

“This is a pragmatic plan with an ambitious vision to improve NHS care, but making it a reality will be extremely tough given growing pressures on services, widespread staff shortages and continued cuts to other parts of the health and care system,” said Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation think tank.

“The NHS is already short of 100,000 doctors, nurses and other staff. While there are initiatives in the plan to build the workforce, they need to be matched with action from central government to secure training budgets and a supportive migration policy to allow international recruitment that is vital to staffing the NHS.”

Full details of the plans will be unveiled later today.

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