icu medical healthcare

£36bn health and social care fund will be used to pay for medtech

Image credit: DT

The UK government has announced that the new £36bn health and social care fund will be spent on innovation and new technology.

It plans to use the money to cover the cost of new treatments and diagnostic and surgical methods to assess patients more quickly using tools such as AI, 'virtual wards', and surgical hubs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has framed the package as a means for helping the NHS recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and reform the adult social care system.

The majority of the money will go towards the NHS, with social care receiving £5.3bn. The investment will be spent over three years. £12bn will be raised through a 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance and tax on dividends from April 2022.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the funding would help the NHS deliver an additional nine million checks, scans, and operations, and potentially drive down waiting times. It said that local surgical hubs, diagnostic technology, and “innovative ways of working” will treat 30 per cent more patients who need elective care by 2023-24.

It added that new surgical hubs, such as those already used in hospitals including Moorfields Eye Hospital to assess patients more efficiently, would help fast-track some planned operations, including cataract removals, hysterectomies, and hip and knee replacements. The hubs will be expanded across the country with more expected to be established at existing sites later this year.

'Virtual wards' and home assessments will aim to give patients medical support remotely. The department gave as an example the 'Hospital at Home' programme run by Doncaster Bassetlaw Hospital Trust, which sees patients given an ECG heart monitor device in a drive-through style service and get tested at home rather than in a hospital.

It also suggested the use of 'pop-up' clinics and robots incorporating AI tools to conduct surgeries (such as the Versius Surgical Robotic System used at Milton Keynes hospital for gynaecological procedures), as well as GP surgeries using AI to help triage patients and identify the appropriate care and support for those on waiting lists.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: “This global pandemic has presented enormous challenges for the NHS and led to a growing backlog – we cannot go on with business as usual. We are going to harness the latest technology and innovative new ways of working such as surgical hubs to deliver the millions more appointments, treatments, and surgeries that are needed over the coming months and years to tackle waiting lists.”

NHS England medical director Professor Steve Powis commented: “Although the pandemic is still with us and we will have to live with the impact of Covid for some time, the NHS has already made effective use of additional resources to recover services – from adopting the latest technologies to more evening and weekend working, NHS staff are going to great lengths to increase the number of operations carried out.

“The further funding announced this week will support staff to deliver millions more vital checks, tests, and operations, so if you have a health concern, please do come forward to receive the care and treatment you may need.”

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