The rising cost of healthcare provision and an ageing population could create a perfect storm for healthcare services. However, with innovation in medical research and technology offering a cure, David Prosser looks at how the UK is positioning itself to finance a transformation.
Perhaps the healthcare innovation that Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, most wants is a cure for insomnia, because he must have difficulty getting to sleep at night. On the one hand, he has promised the UK government £22bn of efficiency savings in the health service by 2020. On the other, his organisation faces everincreasing demands from an ageing population, as well as a panoply of challenges, from soaring drug costs to the knock-on effects of social care shortages.
However, there is help at hand. The UK’s burgeoning healthcare innovation sector – a convergence between technology and medical science companies – might provide some solutions. With technologies that will enable healthcare professionals to do more with less, these businesses might just be the key to the NHS rising to the challe nges it now faces without blowing its budget.
Privatisation might be a dirty word around the NHS, but there is no doubt that a huge commercial opportunity exists for entrepreneurs and their backers. They have the chance to offer technologies that could improve patient outcomes at an affordable cost, given the global potential of any innovation; potential that has been successfully proven in the UK.
Investors are therefore looking at the sector with great interest. Early-stage companies are attracting business angels and venture capital, while private equity and trade are competing for the best assets. Also, large and traditionally risk-averse healthcare companies are buying up proven technologies for a shortcut to innovation and profit growth.
Still, the digital health sector remains relatively small – a government study co-authored by Deloitte put its value at only £2bn at the end of 2014, but projected it would grow to £3bn by 2018.
Businesses making headlines include the likes of AIM-listed Cambridge Cognition, which is working on wearable devices that could detect signs of dementia or depression by tracking changes in people’s behaviour. London-based Touch Surgery has games industry developers and healthcare professionals collaborating on a training app for doctors. In Yorkshire, Inhealthcare provides telemedicine tools that connect patients and doctors remotely.
However, it is not just small-scale start-ups doing this work. DeepMind, the British artificial intelligence company bought by Google two years ago, has begun working with the NHS on a range of initiatives. These are aimed at identifying patients at risk of particular conditions, so that preventative treatment – cheaper than reactive therapies – can be offered.
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