What can the NHS learn from the Commonwealth?

Apr 11, 2018 | By Toby Hannam | Posted in NHS

With the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London next week, Toby Hannam looks at potential opportunities for the NHS from across the Commonwealth.

Theresa May has committed to delivering a new plan for the NHS and ministers will no doubt be looking for ideas to bring it to life. Although looking overseas for ideas is nothing new, the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 2018) could potentially provide some novel inspiration.  

There will of course be other business for ministers to attend to. CHOGM 2018 will be structured around four forums (Business Forum; People’s Forum; Youth Forum; Women’s Forum). Despite antimicrobial resistance (AMR) - which is a key focus of the UK Government’s international health agenda - not being on the agenda, other key health items are, including a session in the Business Forum on ‘New Models of Healthcare - what innovative products from across the Commonwealth can help deliver 21st Century healthcare’.  

Following on from CHOGM 2018, the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) in mid-May will bring together health ministers from across the Commonwealth to outline priorities for the coming year. The resolutions reached at CHOGM 2018 are likely to be discussed further at CHMM.

As with most international events, it is often the conversations on the side that are the most fruitful. Ministers might want to ask their counterparts about examples of innovative service delivery which could be adapted for use in the NHS. I have included three potential conversation-starters:

  • Utilising point-of-care testing. Although point-of-care testing (PoCT) is offered across the NHS, more can still be learned from the PoCT programme in New South Wales, Australia. Due to the size of the area (six times the size of England) efficient delivery of PoCT has been a necessity in New South Wales. They have created the largest managed point-of-care system in the world providing new devices to more than 150 small emergency departments that don’t have access to 24/7 pathology laboratories onsite, through linking a patient’s results to their medical record digitally. With centralisation of pathology services underway, perhaps we could apply lessons from this programme to improve convenience of our services?
  • Government supporting start-ups and new companies to reach more patients. The NHS prides itself on a history of innovation and has made some progress on improving services through digital delivery. However, Singapore appears to be making greater gains through its active approach to encouraging self-service health apps and technology to address waiting times and patients’ concerns. Singapore has been highly supportive of start-ups in the space through government investment. It has also launched government-funded initiatives, such as HealthHub - a platform launched by the Ministry of Health for Singaporeans to access a wide range of health content, rewards and e-services. Whereas the UK’s support has historically been tentative, Singaporean support has been far more assertive. Are there lessons to learn from this approach for the UK?
  • Encouraging the use of mobile health. Currently mobile health (mHealth) in the UK is run as a predominately ‘parallel’ service alongside the NHS, with users seeking to manage their health alongside any care they may receive from the NHS. However, in order to improve patient access and potentially relieve pressure on traditional services we could look to incorporate mHealth into the core service. Again, due to geographical necessity, there are numerous examples of innovative adoption on mHealth across the Commonwealth. The Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative in Ghana focuses on improving maternal and child health through the provision of health information and services among women as part of its main service delivery. The needs in the NHS are clearly different, but are there examples of where necessity has driven innovation which we could learn from?

The Commonwealth is certainly an opportunity for the UK to adopt examples of innovative best practice, such as those identified above. I just hope that CHOGM 2018 and CHMM are used to not only promote the UK’s international health agenda (including AMR), but also to identify opportunities to adopt innovation for the NHS.

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