UK Healthcare

5 UK healthcare predictions for 2018

As the NHS turns 70 years old this year, it is facing a phenomenal mix of challenges and opportunities, with a host of innovative advancements promising greater efficiency and improved patient care, despite ongoing concerns around budgets and staffing.

Below are just 5 predictions for UK healthcare in 2018:

1.       The ageing UK population will prove an increasing burden

The ageing population in the UK will continue to place increasing demands on the NHS in 2018 and beyond. According to the Office for National Statistics, the population in the UK is getting older, with 18% aged 65 and over and 2.4% aged 85 and over. What’s more, by 2046, almost 25% of the UK population is expected to be aged 65 or over.

This ever-growing problem will put pressure on the NHS in a number of ways. According to research published by the respected Lancet Public Health medical journal, between 2015 and 2025 in England and Wales, there will be a 25% increase in the number of older people who will need care.

One of the main reasons for this is the increasing incidence of older people with dementia, which the research says will rise by 40% among people aged 65 to 84. However, other forms of disability amongst older people will also increase by about 31%.

In addition, the challenge of finding suitable social care for elderly patients will continue to lead to costly hospital bed blocking that could prevent thousands of other patients from using the same facilities.

2.       Staff retention and recruitment will remain a challenge

Last year, an NHS Providers’ survey of managers at 149 trusts in England, found that the majority saw workforce issues as the "single biggest risk facing services".

With an estimated shortfall of at least 50,000 doctors and nurses, two thirds of the survey respondents said they were more concerned about workforce challenges than lack of money.

With staff shortages leading to issues such as double shifts or unpaid overtime, it is perhaps not surprising that 60% of trust chairmen and chief executives cited work pressure as one of the main challenges around recruitment and retention.

However, ongoing uncertainty around pay rises for nursing staff continues to be another major problem, with 38% of trust chairmen and chief executives citing pay and reward as a key issue.

To help tackle staff shortages, NHS England is targeting 1500-2000 registered nurses in England to be supported to return to work over the next two years. In addition, a new nurse retention collaborative run by NHS Improvement and NHS Employers will support 30 NHS trusts with the highest rates of staff turnover.

3.       Many NHS provider trusts will remain in deficit

The number of NHS provider trusts that are in deficit will continue to be a concern in 2018. According to the King’s Fund, despite the shared planning guidance for the NHS in 2017/18 that stated an ambition that ‘at national level, the provider sector needs to be in financial balance in each of 2017/18 and 2018/19’, the sector is predicted to remain in deficit in 2017/18. In fact, provider financial plans suggest that there could be an overall deficit of £623 million this year.

As part of the 2017 Autumn budget, chancellor Philip Hammond said the NHS would be given extra financial support in addition to the rises already set out by government spending plans made in 2015. This extra funding included £350m for winter 2017/18 and £1.6bn in 2018/19.

However, the £1.6bn for 2018-19 falls far short of the £4bn that many independent experts have said is needed to meet demand effectively in the NHS, so it remains to be seen whether 2018 will be a pivotal year for getting NHS budgets back on track.

4.       Managing digital risks will remain a priority

Following on from the ‘ransomware’ cyber-attack that crippled many UK health service organisations in May 2017, data and system security will remain a priority for the NHS in 2018.

According to Rob Shaw, deputy chief executive at NHS Digital, throughout 2018 and beyond organisations will have to continue to become more cyber aware, with focus placed on people, processes and technology, as cyber-attacks become more common and complex.

He also points out that “the launch of the Data Security and Protection toolkit in Spring 2018 will provide organisations with a revised process to assess, measure and publish their performance against the National Data Guardian’s 10 Data Security Standards.”

This toolkit should help organisations to build resilience and focus on remediation plans to reduce vulnerabilities.

5.       Technology will offer a host of opportunities for care

Aside from the risks posed by cyber-attacks, digital technology also offers the UK healthcare sector a host of opportunities for improving patient care, communication and engagements.

For example, NHS Choices predicts that in 2018, the cryptography technique called a blockchain that is used by Bitcoin, could be used to give patients exclusive access to their own health information. The patient could then decide which blocks of information they want to share with others.

NHS Choices also predicts the ongoing development of "robocarers" to help reduce the costs of social care for the elderly by providing social interaction and monitoring important vital signs. Following a trial involving a £15,000 carebot called Pepper carried out in Southend care homes, there are further trials of more advanced robocarers planned for 2018.

On a less futuristic note, Rob Shaw, deputy chief executive at NHS Digital, has also pointed out the important roles that data sharing and collaboration will play in 2018.

In addition to local and national data sharing initiatives playing a big part in improving patient care, he says that “Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships will also bring about a more collaborative and joined-up approach to healthcare, which is built around the needs of local populations.”

A time of transformation

Whilst 2018 is unlikely to run smoothly for the NHS, the challenges it faces can be used as fertile ground for innovation and efficiencies in patient care; helping to develop a public healthcare system that works for staff and the public alike.

Approached proactively and pragmatically, 2018 could help turn a time of turmoil into a time of transformation for the NHS, helping providers to reimagine a state-of-the-art public health service that will support future generations for at least another 70 years.

Donna Bedford`