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Government investment is positive for patients, but must be spent wisely

In September 2021, the Government pledged £36 billion to provide long-term support to the NHS and social care systems in England, with a further £5.4 billion cash injection over the next six months to support the health service’s response to COVID-19 and help it deal with an anticipated surge in care needs this winter.

Biting back on the backlog

The Medical Technology Group welcomes this investment and appreciates the focus on the role of technology. Backed by the funding, for example, will be surgical hubs to help fast-track the number of planned operations, including hip and knee replacements, and treat around 30 percent more patients who need elective care by 2023 to 2024.

With waiting lists for routine operations and treatments such as hip replacements and cataract surgery predicted to increase to 13 million[1], exacerbated by a postcode lottery where some areas face huge backlogs while others have almost none[2], this investment is crucial.

The MTG has always campaigned for better access to orthopaedic surgery and its benefits to both patients and society. It can improve patients’ mobility and give them the capacity to return to work and lead a full and active life. In fact, at least 60 percent of those working before the hip replacement procedure return to work after the surgery.

It brings economic benefits, too. Our Keeping Britain Working report in 2017 found that hip replacements delivered savings of £70 million to the UK economy in 2016, with an additional £704 million saved over the next ten years; a vital financial benefit as the country attempts to climb back from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Minimally invasive – maximum benefit

We also welcome the acknowledgement of minimally invasive surgery techniques such as robotic surgery in the Government’s spending plans.

As outlined in the Guardian’s recent Sustainable Healthcare campaign, such techniques offer a more efficient way of treating patients. Robotic surgery, for example, can improve patient recovery time (4.9 days compared to 6.1 days for laparoscopy) while minimising pain, infection and scarring[3], as well as variation in technique. By limiting overnight stays and reducing follow-up care, minimally invasive procedures also bring down costs.

The benefits of such techniques have been harnessed throughout the pandemic. For example, surgical robots have been used in Milton Keynes Hospital to deliver more complex surgery, and it was the first hospital in Europe to use the Versius Surgical Robotic System for major gynaecological surgery, including complex cancer cases.

Fulfilling potential in the promise

With the NHS in England predicted to be short of 50,000 doctors this winter[4], paired with waiting lists of over 5.6 million and huge regional disparities in access to treatment across the country[5], it is essential that this new funding is spent well.

With medical technology at the heart of the recovery plan, it is finally getting the attention it deserves. Now the mission is ensuring its full potential is harnessed as the plan is rolled out.


September 2021

[1] Additional £5.4bn for NHS Covid recovery over next six months | National Health Executive

[2] Huge discrepancy in NHS England waiting times for common procedures | NHS | The Guardian

[3] Robotics and robotic surgery: how to access better patient care | National Health Executive

[4] NHS short of 50,000 doctors heading into winter, BMA research finds – BMA media centre – BMA

[5] Home Page – Ration Watch

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