Innovation and Investment: the NHS at 60 -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine


UK Trade and Investment

Innovation and Investment: the NHS at 60

The opportunities for investment within the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) are increasing as it celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

It was the most revolutionary concept in British healthcare history. The NHS was a radical new idea: one which promised and delivered the highest standards of free healthcare for all, while making pioneering advances in medical care, treatment and surgery.

A leaflet announcing the introduction of the National Health Service on July 5, 1948, stated simply: “Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it. But it is not a ‘charity’. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness.”

Prior to the introduction of the NHS, most of the British public had to pay to see a GP, and thousands of people died every year of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and polio.

Transforming healthcare delivery

In the last 60 years, however, investment and innovation in the service has transformed healthcare delivery; and, as a result, the NHS has been at the forefront of some ground-breaking science, from the first test tube baby to regular heart transplant surgery.

In 1948, a cataract operation meant a week of total immobility for the patient; today, surgery is over within 20 minutes, and most patients leave hospital the same day. In 1958, hip replacements were rare; now, the NHS carries out 1,000 every week.

Crucially, new services and technology have played a vital role in transforming the NHS. The breast-screening programme, introduced in 1988, is estimated to save the lives of 1,400 women a year; while hi-tech robotic equipment performs extraordinarily precise life-saving surgery. Tens of thousands of cancer patients also benefit from improved images provided by Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computerized Tomography (CT) – otherwise known as PET/CT scans. This emerging technology allows clinicians to ensure the most effective and bespoke treatment for each patient.

Overseas investment in the NHS

Investment is crucial to ensure the health of the NHS. In January 2008, investment in the NHS by private sector firms was welcomed by the government. Mark Britnell, Director of Commissioning at the Department of Health, explained that £250million a year has been allocated for companies looking to offer medical services in cooperation with the NHS. "There is a potential business here worth more than £1 billion for companies to bid into, alongside existing GPs and foundation trusts," he said.

This includes investment from international firms. For instance, in May 2004, Australian company Ramsay Health Care was selected for the largest public sector care contract ever awarded by the NHS. Under the contract, it is estimated that 95,000 NHS patients will have been treated between 2005 and 2010 in 10 NHS Treatment Centres UK-wide for cataract surgery, hernia repair and hip/knee surgery.

Meanwhile, Interhealth Canada’s UK subsidiary provides specialist orthopaedic services to NHS patients at two Treatment Centres in Kidderminster and Runcorn (reducing waiting times in hospitals). And in January 2008, German company Fresenius Medical Care announced that it had been selected by the NHS to manage dialysis care for 12 renal units across the north of England, a pioneering scheme serving more than 400 patients. While benefiting from the company’s expertise in hemodialysis, patients will remain under the care of their NHS physicians. “We are very honoured that Fresenius Medical Care has been chosen to work in partnership with the NHS to manage this innovative renal services program,” says Dr. Emanuele Gatti, Chief Executive Officer for Fresenius. “We now have an outstanding opportunity to improve capacity for hemodialysis patients in the UK and provide easier access to services.”

Ground-breaking treatments

Scientific breakthroughs such as these were never thought possible 60 years ago. Many more are to come. In September 2008, the NHS will introduce the first ever vaccine against cancer: all schoolgirls aged 12 will be offered the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.

But it’s not only medical breakthroughs that will be important for the long-term future of the NHS (PET-CT technology for cancer patients, for instance, is also expected to benefit cardiac and neurological patients). Even everyday advances in communications have a part to play: at some stage, GPs will be able to send prescriptions electronically to pharmacists, thereby making the dispensing of drugs safer and more convenient.

“Throughout its 60 years, the NHS has continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of the public,” says NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson. “Medical progress, coupled with the hard work and skill of dedicated staff have continually driven up the standards and quality of care, making the National Health Service the envy of the world.”