Steve Tope, Tunstall’s Business Development DIrector, shares his thoughts on innovation in the NHS following the recent King’s Fund Digital Health and Care Congress 2017.

We recently hosted two round table lunches at the King’s Fund Congress, which were designed to bring together senior health and care professionals to discuss some of the well-documented challenges facing the NHS and social care providers, particularly in relation to delayed transfers of care (DTOC).

Facilitated by respected journalist Bernard Ginns, the events provided an excellent forum for valuable discussion between peers, and we’ve had great feedback from our guests remarking on how useful they found discussions.

Some key themes emerged:

The need for prevention rather than cure.
The best answer to the challenges posed by DTOC is to avoid admission in the first place; delegates agreed that more focus should be placed on upstream interventions. We identified a vital role for technology in providing predictive tools to identify people in the community at highest risk of admission. Systems to monitor vital signs and symptoms and activities of daily living are already widely available, and as the Connected Home becomes a reality there is also the possibility of technology like smart meters having a role to play in identifying patients at risk.

Let’s get engaged
Stakeholder engagement is of course key to any change, and the group acknowledged that whilst managers need to lead, they also need to engage staff at an early stage so that they buy into cultural and procedural changes. We discussed accountability, with leaders taking ownership of service transformation, and the importance of communicating the benefits so staff understand how changes will improve patient care, as well as their own job roles and the organisation as a whole. Possible barriers to engagement were identified as agency staffing and digital literacy, with ‘super users’ being suggested as a way of overcoming this. It was also noted that gaining feedback from clinicians and patients, and including evaluation in system change from the start was vital.

The right care in the right place at the right time
It was universally agreed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not work, and no single solution would be suitable for everyone. Any changes to pathways must include flexibility to take account of this. Attendees also agreed on the importance of usability for staff and patients, balancing the need for change with a healthy dose of realism. There was also a consensus of opinion that abolishing outpatient clinics in favour of delivering care at the point of need would improve efficiency and quality of care.

Size matters!
There was a strong feeling in the group that health and social care services had reached tipping point where business as usual or marginal improvements are no longer an option, and large-scale, radical service transformation is required in order to deliver increased capacity. However, a lack of imagination and bravery is preventing innovation and stifling change. This may be the biggest challenge of all for the future of health and social care.