Happy birthday NHS! Now, what do you want?

Those of you who tuned in to BBC2’s outstanding Hospital last night will have been astounded by the displays of bravery and commitment by the staff in the face of an exponential increase in demand. The deeply affecting stories take on an extra resonance as we approach the NHS’s 70th birthday, and we come to celebrate the unique brilliance of our health and care service.

But this is also a time for reflection. One of the remarkable procedures shown in the series is a marathon surgery on 12-year-old Keilan’s spine, which has been distorted out of its usual shape by scoliosis. The life-saving surgery he received was administered, rightly, without charge.

However, the procedure was not ‘free’. All this comes at a cost: not only the surgical team’s time and expertise, but the state-of-the-art equipment and medications required to conduct the five-hour surgery. The metal screws straightening his spine will have been developed thanks to considerable billions invested in R&D all over the world. HMRC estimates that for each £1 granted in R&D tax credits, it returns £1.53 – £2.35 in R&D spend by UK companies.

So it provides value for money, stimulates the economy, and saves lives. But it is expensive.

Each new medicine now takes up to £1.2bn to develop, driving up the average cost of bringing a drug to market by 70% from just seven years ago. Medicines take on average over a decade to develop, and yet even then the vast majority of drugs never make it to market.

It is right that we should – indeed, must – continue to fund vital surgery like Keilan’s. But the public purse is not a bottomless pit. And with Brexit still rumbling on, we are at risk of losing access to pots of EU funding which have historically supplemented our domestic R&D efforts.

As we become more able to treat increasingly complex diseases, the cost of innovation increases.

So we must ask some difficult questions of ourselves. NHS Digital published figures yesterday showing that hospital admissions where obesity is a factor have more than doubled in England during the last four years. Government figures show that the overall cost of this entirely preventable disease to wider society is estimated at £27 billion, and may reach as much as £50bn by 2050 if not addressed.

And the third of the population that is not overweight or obese can still make a significant contribution. At the beginning of this year, we discovered that 8m missed hospital appointments in 2016/17 had cost us almost £1bn.

The same figures also found that more than 9m people were sent home from A&E with just guidance and advice – and with each emergency visit estimated to cost around £124, the numbers stack up.

Finally, this is being recognised at a policy level. At the very end of last year, NHS England announced it would no longer fund prescriptions for 18 clinically-unproven treatments like homoeopathy. This was followed up with guidance just a few days ago advising commissioners to curb prescriptions for minor conditions which can be easily treated with over-the-counter remedies such as paracetamol, anti-dandruff shampoo and cough medicine. Most of these products are available for purchase over the counter at a lower cost than the NHS must reimburse manufacturers, saving up to £100m.

These sums individually may seem small. But cumulatively, they could fund millions of surgeries that keep people on their feet and out of hospital for longer. The £1bn of missed appointments could have funded 1m more cataract operations or 250,000 hip replacements. And that means more time and money for highly-specialised services.

For its 70th birthday, the best gift to the NHS is to free up funding for seriously ill patients and make sure more patients like Keilan can walk away with a smile on their face.

For more information on how GK can help your business navigate the complex health and social care market, contact ilana@gkstrategy.com 

See more articles by GK Strategy

sort news by category

Insight, Strategy, Impact,

awards, B2G, Bills, bolt on, Boris, Boris Johnson, Brexit, business, careers, climate change, clinical trials, commissioning, Communications, Consumer, consumer demands, covid, COVID 19, Crisis comms, culture, d, David Laws, Deregulation, Devolution, Digital, Disruption, diversity, Due Diligence, economic policy, Education, Energy, Energy and Environment, engagement, Environment, Equality, ESG, EU, europe, exit plan, Financial Services, general election, General News, gig economy, GK culture, gk report, Government, government affairs, Health, health and social care, health funding, Healthcare, housing, HS2, i have a voice, infrastructure, insight, internship, Investment, Investor, Investor Backed Businesses, Investor Services, investors, Ioan, Jack Sansum, Jeremy Corbyn, labour conference, Labour market, Legislation, life sciences, local government, lockdown, medical devices, Medicines, membership bodies, mental health, mental health services, nationalisation, NHS, No deal, parliament, pharma, pharmaceuticals, Planning, policy, Political Due Diligence, Politics, Pride Month, Prime Minister, Private Equity, Privatisation, Public Affairs, Public Relations, Public spending, Queen's Speech, rail, REF, regulation, sales, Select Committee, select committees, Social Care, Spending Review, Strategic Communications, students, sustainability, Tax, Technology, The Conservative Party, The Labour Party, trade bodies, transformation, Transport, uk, UK Politics, university, Waste, Winter Plan, women, Workplace,