Co-operation is critical

Prema Subaskaran

The public and private healthcare sectors have built mutually beneficial relationships over the last 22 months. But Lyca Health chairwoman Prema Subaskaran says it is vital we build what will be a lasting partnership after Covid-19.

No public service sector has been more adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than healthcare.

As we find ourselves approaching the second anniversary of the pandemic, it is important for us to pause to reflect on the outstanding work of the public and independent sector professionals who came together to tackle a once in a generation crisis. 

No single public health crisis has placed a greater strain on the healthcare systems of every country in the world in modern history. 

According to the World Health Organization, by November 2021 more than 248m people worldwide had contracted Covid-19 and 5m had died of the virus. Yet, despite these figures, a large proportion of the population has become desensitised to its devastating effects that we must now learn to live with. 

In the UK, the NHS was – at the time of writing – reporting nearly 10m Covid-19 cases. This is the fourth highest in the world. Unsurprisingly, public health services reached maximum capacity some time ago, resulting in lengthy waiting times and delayed care, with many areas seeing ambulances queueing outside A&E departments for hours waiting for patients to be admitted.

Record waits 

The number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England have been at record highs and tens of thousands are having to wait for over a year. Operations have been cancelled, sometimes at very short notice, as the NHS continues to grapple with the crisis. 

As we look to the future in terms of how we ease this burden and ensure that the worsening clinical, operational, legal and staffing challenges can be better managed, it will be important for the NHS to work more closely with private health providers. 

We have seen the public and private sectors form mutually beneficial relationships over the past 22 months and, consequently, relationships and perceptions have changed.

This welcome shift presents a long-term opportunity for the independent sector and the NHS to continue to work together. 

We have already seen the benefits of greater collaboration during the pandemic, so how do we ensure there is a sustainable partnership between the two sectors in the future?

Technology could be the answer

When it comes to healthcare, the public and independent sectors are ultimately working towards the same end goal – providing patients with a clear, complete and uncluttered pathway from diagnostics to treatment. 

Yet, given the current landscape the healthcare sector is operating in, achieving this has been a challenge. 

Every path to a positive patient outcome begins with a correct and timely diagnosis, but outdated processes undermined by human and system errors can cause healthcare providers to fall at this very first hurdle.

This systemic challenge means that all too often it is not possible to pull information on medical history or that delays in data sharing or misunderstandings in communication mean that critical information can reach the desired party far too late. 

Improved efficiencies

Many healthcare bodies have improved their practices drastically in recent times to combat these challenges, introducing new technologies that can deliver improved process efficiencies and reduce human error.

This is where I believe that the healthcare industry needs to make greater investment. For example, the system has been overstretched and at maximum capacity. 

In situations like this, it’s important we implement technologies and tools that can help to get the system more organised and better integrate and balance considerations of patient symptoms, history, demeanour and environmental factors. In doing so, we can reduce the amount of manual labour on the physician.

Transforming aftercare

At LycaHealth, we strongly advocate that healthcare practitioners should also focus on providing long-term aftercare for those patients who need it.

Given the strains placed on healthcare systems, something of a revolving door has been established as the norm, where practitioners must get patients in, treated and out quickly to try to manage the ever-growing numbers. 

Today, when a patient leaves the doctor’s practice or hospital, they are given a treatment plan or discharge instructions, but there is no guarantee that they will follow that plan or call their physician if they encounter problems. 

This is where we believe that smart sensors can help. With cutting-edge devices such as wear­ables and smart scales, patients are never alone after leaving hospital, staying connected to allow doctors to monitor recovery and intervene where necessary to reduce the chance of re-admissions.

It is one of my ambitions at LycaHealth to make such connectivity a reality – to pool readings from devices in the cloud that are then reviewed by trained physicians, with key information provided back to patients via a dedicated portal that may be accessed with ease via smartphones or other devices. 

New, cutting-edge facilities

There are many ways in which technologies can deliver benefits to healthcare systems and practitioners, from improved efficiency and a reduced strain, to more accurate and optimal patient outcomes. 

A great example of this is our work at KIMS Hospital in Maidstone, Kent. KIMS Hospital is already one of the largest private hospitals in south-east England, and we are working with them to bring high-quality, accessible health services to local communities in the UK. 

Over the coming years, we will be investing in upgrading KIMS’s hospital technology and facilities for existing and future enhanced services, including supporting the growth of cancer care, treatment and recovery facilities. 

As part of our commitment to cutting-edge facilities and innovation, we have also launched two new state-of-the-art health centres in the UK: the Canary Wharf Breast Centre and The Orpington Breast Centre. 

Both centres have been equipped with the latest imaging and diagnostic technology including 3D imaging tomosynthesis capabilities providing a more advanced and detailed imaging technique.

Combined with the world-class practitioners who operate there, the use of such technologies ensures there is no need to wait for lengthy referrals and access to treatment, with rapid diagnostic times allowing results to be processed in as little as 24 hours. 

Collectively improving patient outcomes

Despite these undoubted successes, there is still work to be done if current challenges are to be overcome. New technology should underpin this whole process. 

There is significant opportunity to become smarter about the way in which we use artificial intelligence and machine learning with data sets to improve the quality of clinical care. But how do we get there? And how do we ensure that cutting-edge healthcare can be accessible to all?

Collaboration and partnership is key. The surge in global healthcare demand should not simply be a burden on public health organisations such as the NHS. 

The pandemic has laid the foundations for greater collaboration between public and independent enterprises, be it addressing greater demand, swapping vital knowledge or sharing experiences, approaches and expertise to drive collective improvement that saves lives. 

We have reached a pivotal moment in global healthcare. Neither sector can go it alone. 

Entities of all shapes and sizes must continue working together, to put the patient first, address their needs and improve outcomes for all. Never have health partnerships been more important.