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Rishi Sunak on future of robots & drones in NHS – the reaction

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed the future use of technologies such as robots, Virtual Reality and drones by the NHS during his speech at the CBI’s Annual Conference. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the conference crowd that he “grew up in an NHS family” and that “it’s in my blood” before detailing plans for a future of technological healthcare. 

Having declared that innovation is his theme of the day, the PM went on to say that it’s a defining focus of the government to harness innovation for economic growth. Embedding innovation into our public services, he said, is crucial, “especially into our NHS.”

Innovation to be “embedded” into NHS

Addressing the crowd, he added: “I grew up in an NHS family, it’s in my blood. And as your Prime Minister, I will always protect an NHS which is free at the point of use. 

“And that’s why, in a budget which we had to make savings overall, we didn’t cut the funding for health and social care, we increased it by 8 billion pounds. 

“Our ambition can not be measured solely on money spent, but by the quality of care of every patient receives.

“We all want it to be easier to see the family GP, we don’t want it to be so long that our loved ones have to wait for ambulances. Or for the operations they need. 

“But better care requires innovation.”

He continued: “In part that means new drugs and new technologies, and this country should be proud of how we are leading the way with robots assisting surgery, doctors being trained with Virtual Reality headsets, and drones transporting description medicines to patients in remote locations. 

“Medical technologies like these are only the most visible form of innovation. 

“We also need to radically innovate how we do things. That’s how we’ll really improve the quality and speed of care, and make the money we invest in the NHS go further.”

“To do that, we’re opening community diagnostic centres to deliver millions more tests, checks and scans – close to home, and without having to arrange multiple appointments.

“And our new surgical hubs will offer hundreds of thousands of patients access to the most common procedures. 

“But we need to go further still” He went on to say that we need “radical transparency” about the performance of the NHS.

The PM added: “We’re also making sure the NHS has the workforce it needs for the future, with the right number of doctors and nurses in the right places.”

Prime Minister is “being optimistic”

Dr. Charles Armitage, Former NHS Doctor and CEO and founder of Florence said the NHS is “falling to pieces” that more still needs to be done. He told Health Tech World:   “As the Prime Minister highlighted, more innovation is needed across the NHS and social care to ensure the sector is protected in the future. 

“The government is taking big steps to drive technology and innovation across the NHS and social care sector and it is important to see the UK leading the way in terms of medical tech development. 

“However, the investment does need to factor in some more of the fundamental challenges within the NHS that need to be addressed.

“Our research shows that one of the key challenges facing the sector is the growing vacancy rate which is having an impact on quality of care and wait times for patients.”

He continued: “The NHS and social care workforce is completely falling to pieces. The frontline staff kept the NHS together during the pandemic and were promised it would get easier, but over the last weeks and months, managers have been trying to fill more and more shifts.”

Underfunding a “fundamental problem” 

“For too long, the NHS and health and social care sector has struggled with underfunding and a troubling vacancy rate across the healthcare sector. The fundamental problem is that they simply don’t have the front line staff in place to deal with growing demands. 

“It is a step in the right direction but the Prime Minister is being optimistic. 

“Surgery hubs, community diagnostic community centres and growing commitment to develop the NHS are all welcome changes but doesn’t fix the real vacancy rate across the sector. Moreover, the increase in services, without a viable plan to increase staffing, can lead to even longer wait times, worse quality of care and a higher vacancy rate. 

“It takes years to effectively train doctors and nurses and we need to look beyond a single government. 

“As an immediate measure, we need to ensure that inflation matches pay rises to prevent staff leaving and have a commitment to spending to ensure the NHS and care sector can continue to provide high quality care that the country deserves.” 

A mixed picture

Pritesh Mistry, fellow at The King’s Fund said: ‘It is a very mixed picture. There are some organisations within the NHS that are global leaders in innovation and digital health, whilst others are have severe problems with even basic IT infrastructure. 

“This limits the numbers of patients whose care can be improved by new technologies.

“There’s a need to address the significant variation of digital capability across the NHS so more patients and staff can reap the benefits of technology and innovation.’

Positive developments in future of healthcare technology

Iain O’Neil, Managing Partner Healthcare at TPXimpact told Health Tech World: ““We welcome Rishi Sunak’s commitment to improve NHS services through technology, but we shouldn’t forget people in the process. 

“We’ve already seen positive developments in the future of healthcare through increased use of electronic patient records, machine learning and data driven outcomes. 

“However, tech innovation cannot be successful in isolation and needs to work hand in hand with people to deliver better outcomes for patients, and drive down critical waiting lists for an NHS already stretched to its limit. 

“Better sharing of data will be key to delivering more flexible services between care providers, but we need to also do so responsibly and with the patient’s needs firmly in front of mind.” 

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