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Using the power of technology to make the world a safer and healthier place

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care gave the keynote speech at the Founders Forum Health Tech Summit, during London Tech Week 2021.

By Sajid Javid

Although unfortunately, I can’t be with you in person, it’s brilliant to see that there are so many people gathering face-to-face this afternoon after last year’s entirely virtual event. And just as technology kept London Tech Week going at this time of adversity, it kept the whole world going too.

Before I took on this job, I was working with Harvard University to look at how governments can learn from this pandemic and be better prepared for future challenges. And it was clear to me that our fight against this virus would’ve been so much harder without the technological advances we’ve made in recent years.

Friends and families wouldn’t have been able to stay connected. Many businesses couldn’t have kept running. And it would’ve been so much harder to support our vulnerable. And nowhere has tech transformation proved its worth more than in health and care.

We all owe so much not just to our doctors, nurses and colleagues on the front line, but also the coders, developers and innovators who helped our NHS stay so strong. We developed an online diagnosis service that was able to carry out 750,000 online coronavirus assessments in just one day. We used primary care data to securely create the world’s largest analysis of coronavirus risk factors, at incredible speed. And we created a seamless vaccination booking system, that was visited 80 million times in a single month.

Now we’ve seen what health tech can do at a time when health systems around the world were under incredible strain, we must build on the progress that we’ve all seen and deliver this long-awaited digital revolution. And today, I’d like to share a few areas that I see as critical.

First, we need to get the basics right and make sure that the great advances we’ve seen are replicated across the whole of NHS and social care.

I’m not the first Secretary of State to talk about the importance of this agenda. But I firmly believe that technology – if it’s deployed in the right way – can be a great leveller. And so we need to make sure that the opportunities of digital transformation are spread fairly, so that everyone can benefit.

Despite the great progress of recent years, too much of the system doesn’t currently have the basics in place, which frustrates patients and makes life harder for colleagues on the front line.

One in ten NHS trusts are still largely operating on paper-based systems. And in social care, research shows 71percent of the sector has no digital access to information on the medication of people in their care.

We need to level up these digital inequalities and embark on the full digitisation that is so essential to the long-term sustainability of health and social care. This means shoring up our cyber security capability, replacing technology that’s out of date, and supporting the adoption of shared care records. Because it’s only by allowing colleagues to see patients’ information in one place, regardless of what part of the system they use, that we can have a truly integrated system for health and social care.

88 percent of integrated care systems will have a shared record in place by the end of this month – that’s up from 65 percent just six months ago. And when I visited a hospital in Milton Keynes just two months ago, I saw what impact this can make for colleagues on the front line.

How they can reduce the amount of time it takes to access a record from approximately 15 minutes to just 30 seconds.

In care homes, it means releasing over ten hours of care worker time per care home each week. Time that could be spent on patient care. This is why digital transformation is essential. And through our digital framework – What Good Looks Like – we’ve set clear standards for digital maturity, and we’re giving frontline leaders the support they need to make the change where they work. And this work won’t just improve the regular interactions that we all have with our health and care system.

But it’ll also allow us to take advantage of the huge advances in technology that offer so much potential. I used to work in finance an industry that was transformed by technology and led to the creation of new industries, like mobile banking. And in healthcare too, we’ve seen seismic change already, intensified by the pressures of the pandemic.

Over 300,000 people are now being supported in their own home through the use of digital solutions for monitoring their long-term conditions, like the pulse oximeters that let patients measure their own blood oxygen levels at home. Some of these changes were made out of necessity, due to a virus that thrived on human contact. But here too, there’s a lot that’s worked well and that we can take forward.

For example, many young people told us they appreciated digital consultations for mental health, as they can complete sessions in their preferred location, and they don’t need to travel to appointments. I know that not everyone wants to have their GP appointments virtually, or arrange their prescriptions through an app, and we’ll make sure they can access care in a way that works for them.

But some people do.

Just look at the incredible digital adoption we’ve seen through the course of the pandemic. The NHS app, which lets you view your NHS Covid Pass, or book appointments – it’s now reached 16 million users, compared to four million in May. And it’s worth reflecting, given this week is also Organ Donation Week, that 1.5 million people have now used the NHS app to manage their organ donation decision, with 265,000 of these registering for the first time.

The benefits here are enormous. So we need to give people choice, and take the opportunities that these new technologies provide. It’s no coincidence that the five countries at the top of the Bloomberg Health System Efficiency table are the ones that have embraced data and data-driven technologies the most. And there’s a lot to do, but we’re making great progress. During that Milton Keynes visit, I also saw their surgical robots and heard about how they’d become the first hospital in Europe to use them for major gynaecology surgery. And we’re not just using these technologies, but we’re also playing an active role in their development.

Our AI Health and Care Award is making £140 million available over 3 years to back some of the technological breakthroughs that have so much promise. The most recent winners included an algorithm that could improve the detection of lung cancer, smartphone apps that can detect warning signs for chronic kidney disease, and a programme that can analyse speech patterns to detect common neurological and psychiatric diseases. And I’m delighted that over a quarter of NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England are deploying at least one solution that’s been funded by the AI Health and Care Awards.

But I want to bring even more pioneers into the fold. So we’re developing clear digital standards to encourage innovation. And we’re removing barriers for local leaders, by consolidating multiple funds for tech transformation into one single fund.

Every London Tech Week, we see just how much tech talent there is in this country. And I want to make sure we’re working with digital dynamos like you all, to bring new healthcare technologies to market and to deploy them across the system.

Because this pandemic has taught us so much about ourselves, about our health system, and about the opportunities that technology can offer. And as we keep moving on our path closer to normal life, we mustn’t lose sight of the advances we’ve made and the improvements that we can take forward.

So, this London Tech Week, let’s all renew our commitment to using the power of technology to make the whole world a safer and healthier place.



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