As the NHS is approaching its 75th birthday, this report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change proposes how the NHS needs to transform if it is to survive.
The paper propose six areas for reform where radical-but-practical policy action will begin to transform the future of the NHS and deliver better patient care:
1. Put patients in control of their own health: First, the government must provide every person with a digital Personal Health Account (PHA) that offers a simple, single digital front door to the NHS and wider health-care services. It will become the portal through which people interact with the NHS, allowing patients to have direct access to services, including general practitioner (GP) appointments, at-home diagnostic services and even opportunities to participate in clinical trials. Most importantly, it will give people direct access to and ownership of their health data, including information provided by third-party providers or wearable technologies.
2. Create new access routes for services and providers: The range and availability of health-care services must increase to reflect citizens’ demands and their increasingly complex needs. Pharmacies, gyms, supermarkets, workplaces and other spaces should all be able to provide or facilitate the provision of health care, bringing services closer to patients and reducing demands on general practice. Most importantly, the PHA will create a new marketplace for services. This should focus on high-volume, low-complexity services – for instance dermatology – to make them directly available to patients. Introducing multiple providers, including third parties, will offer patients greater choice through the ability to balance outcomes, waiting times and costs.
3. Harness the power of genomics and other “omics” platforms to personalise care: The NHS Genomic Medicine Service should be made accessible to more patients for a greater range of conditions to improve early diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Specifically, universal clinical whole-genome sequencing should be offered to all patients upon disease diagnosis, all newborns and all healthy populations with known risk factors, including a family history of disease. As science progresses, other omics disciplines such as proteomics and metabolomics, should be integrated into routine clinical care, to improve the prevention, management and treatment of disease.
4. Create a locally led and self-improving system: There must be a new deal for accountability and autonomy between Whitehall and the Integrated Care Systems (ICSs). This must allow local leaders to operate with much greater freedom and hold them to account for delivering a set of clear and transparent outcomes focused on creating and improving health, rather than simply treating sickness and delivering against activity targets. ICSs should also be given multi-year budgets that are adjusted for the needs of their local population. And they should be allowed to keep and redeploy savings from innovating and improving care. Finally, quality and care outcomes should be made transparent and available to patients to empower them to make an informed choice between GPs and secondary care providers within an ICS.
5. Invest in new and more efficient infrastructure to deliver better care: NHS productivity and efficiency must be transformed through investment in basic technology as well as increasingly powerful AI, and by enhancing existing infrastructure. This will require upfront investment but will be offset, at least in part, through increased automation of processes and by finally tackling wastage across the system. The future operating model we are setting out in this paper will be much more capital intense, much more efficient and much less reliant on labour.
6. Energise and modernise the NHS workforce: The new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is welcome and will provide much-needed investment to help create a pipeline of future talent, increase long-term capacity and provide new training routes to increase workforce diversity across the NHS. However, the NHS is facing an immediate workforce crisis with concerns over staffing pressures and pay that must be resolved. In addition, putting more staff into an outdated and unproductive delivery model is not sustainable and much greater focus is needed on harnessing the potential for technology to improve the efficiency of services, help to reduce the demands on frontline services and improve outcomes for patients. In addition, a comparable commitment and long-term plan is needed for social care and public health to create fully supported health and care services.