Digitisation of the NHS – ‘when’, not ‘if’?

Will Gibbs, Health lead at Octopus Ventures discusses the move towards a tech-led NHS

Talk of the digitalisation of the NHS has gained momentum in recent years, with the release of the NHS Long Term Plan, NHSX being revealed by Matt Hancock and new systems having been put in place to improve the enablement of technology in the NHS.

As the largest employer in the UK, the NHS is a service that many of us depend on for our care throughout our lives. It may seem a straightforward task for many other organisations, but the digitalisation of hospitals is still a difficult and ongoing procedure.

Whilst it is still early in the process for the NHS’ new digital transformation journey – what makes the NHS so attractive for when/if technology is an integral part of it? Most of us interested in digital health do not think of ‘if’, but rather ‘when’.

Healthcare becoming digital is inevitable when you consider cases such as using AI to circumvent the radiology crisis. Take Kheiron tackling breast cancer screening, or uses of digital cognitive behavioural therapy such as Big Health who are tackling insomnia and mental health. This represents a massive opportunity to become a globally leading market in innovation for the UK; with the NHS at the centre of it.

The market alone is a reason to be excited. Across the world, spending on health has grown by 2% in excess of GDP growth and by 2050 it is expected that a fifth of GDP in OECD countries will be spent on healthcare.

Healthcare is poised to become the largest spender for every developed country across the globe. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the global health-tech industry is now valued at £188bn and set to rise to £206bn by 2020.

The NHS is one of the largest single payer systems in the world, and whilst currently the fragmented sales and distribution can be a hard obstacle when trying to sell – digitalisation and centralisation of procurement will improve this and give start-ups the opportunity to scale exponentially and fundamentally improve the patients they are focused on.

The NHS is also an amazing test-bed for start-ups giving them ample opportunity to work with patients and data to improve outcomes. For many companies acting outside of the UK, they have had trouble acquiring large volumes and high-quality data sets that can be used for their platform – but the NHS provides these in a much better way.

The opportunities to address issues that could potentially save thousands of lives in the future is just one of the many reasons for why digital health is important. The NHS is set to be one of the major players in making this happen for the UK; giving start-ups the opportunity to innovate a historically ‘slow’ industry and fundamentally change what we view ‘healthcare’ as.

Will Gibbs is an investor and the Future of Health lead at Octopus Ventures