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‘Penny-wise, pound-foolish’ NHS must adopt Stevens’s new mindset

Changing the way care is delivered is part of the solution to delivering frontline efficiencies, NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens said in 2016. He also described the health service as ‘penny-wise but pound foolish’, often avoiding the adoption of medical technology because the savings are felt in another part of the service.

So, following the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement in November last year of an extra £2.8 billion to support local health and social care, and the suggestion that the Government is mulling a 10-year settlement which could see an extra £4 billion injected into the health service, is it time for the NHS to consider Simon Stevens’s advice?

Last winter highlighted the strain the NHS is under, with the pressure of seasonal illness clashing with mounting demand from an ageing population and the rising toll of chronic conditions. It culminated in sixty-eight senior managers from Accident & Emergency Departments – in a warning to Theresa May and Health and Social Care Secretary, Jeremy Hunt – describing the NHS as ‘severely and chronically underfunded’.

While more funding for the NHS is obviously welcome, it’s vital the money is spent wisely. More of the same, such as topping up overspending Trusts, would not reflect Simon Stevens’s new mindset. Instead the money should be invested in treatments and technology that prevent future hospitalisations, A&E visits, and long-term costs. Treatments such as coronary angioplasty, which opens up a blocked artery and restores blood flow to the heart muscle, a much less invasive and quicker alternative to coronary bypass surgery that returns patients home within a day of the procedure. Or compression bandages, a new treatment for patients with venous leg ulcers, applied by patients themselves, that can save millions of pounds in community nurse visits, hospital outpatient visits and GP appointments.

As well as reducing healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes, these treatments – and hundreds of others – have the added benefit of returning patients of working age to an active lifestyle where they contribute to society, or free up carers to return to work or play a role in their local community.

Medical technology has the potential to save the taxpayer millions of pounds. In fact, our Keeping Britain Working report found that £500 million could be saved in reduced long-term health costs and benefit payments from the wider use of just eight treatments.

As the NHS approaches its 70th anniversary, the best birthday present the Government could give our health service – on top of a fresh injection of funding – would be a change of approach that rewards long term savings and delivers wider societal value.

April 2018

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