I think I am just beginning to appreciate the enormous and revolutionary impacts and benefits that healthcare technologies, in all the many forms, have the potential to give to patients, healthcare workers, organisations, the NHS and society in general. A revolution so large it might even be seen from space!

As the lead for the Surrey Heartlands ICS Workforce Strategy I am enormously interested in the way we are going to be able to empower patients to self-care and care navigate for themselves, how personalised medicine enabled through genomics will alter care pathways, but also and importantly identify, at birth, those who are likely to develop disease in many decades yet to come. Targeted preventative intervention in those individuals could lead to the ultimate health prize – disease prevention.  

In addition the opportunity that results to reduce hospital attendances and stays and allow care closer to home. Machine learning, AI and robotics will automate or eradicate administrative and repetitive tasks currently undertaken by over stretched NHS teams which distract from direct patient care.

 I’m not interested in these innovations in order to save money specifically, although clearly there are potential benefits to the taxpayer pound but more in the opportunity to avoid disease and suffering and to decompress the NHS, assist in addressing workforce gaps and shortfalls and genuinely giving my colleagues the gift of time to care. As we move into an increasingly automated and self-service healthcare delivery model the skills that only humans can bring should be increasingly valued and must enable us to bring the joy back into our practice and reconnect us with our desire to care.

The human skills required to blend the art and science of care, compassion, touch, humanity, time and silent reflection as we share the most intimate moments of joy and sadness with patients and their loved ones should re-emerge as the pre-eminent role of healthcare workers and one that retakes its rightful place in the technocratic hierarchy of care that has replaced it in order to sustain activity and productivity in the face of historic workforce vacancies.

Here in Surrey Heartlands we have fertile ground for these opportunities and have a dedicated Digital Strategy and roadmap alongside an ambition to embrace all that the future of healthcare technologies offers. We have initiatives in practice underway from which we can learn and iterate the application and implementation such as; the Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM) for Dementia and Learning Disability project run by Surrey and Boarders Partnership FT,  the OPTIMAM2 project running at the Royal Surrey County NHSFT which seeks to optimise the adoption of new X-ray technology for detecting breast cancers and thereby improve early detection and a range of virtual outpatient and primary care solutions running out of Ashford and St.Peter’s  NHSFT and North West Surrey Integrated Care Services which allows on-line consultations with patients from the comfort of their homes. All of this is to be supported and further enabled by the roll-out of electronic patient records and connected via the Local Healthcare Exemplar Record. Nevertheless it’s still early days and these initiatives whilst good to see really represent early foundations on which we must build if we are to achieve our ambitions.

I’m now in danger of describing a cure for all ills or a panacea without paying attention to the enormous amount of planning and preparation that will be necessary within healthcare settings but more importantly with citizens to really capitalise on the opportunity. Simply putting information, data and control in the hands of the population will not alone bring about the significant cultural and behavioural changes necessary. We must think very carefully with citizens about incorporating this thinking and technology in education for example, so that population benefits are accessible to all. We must avoid deepening the existing inequalities.  

My overall sense is that we are on the edge of something profound and we must maintain the momentum and ambition despite the inevitable challenges ahead. Bring on the revolution I say!”

Suzanne Rankin, Chief Executive, Ashford & St Peter’s NHS Foundation Trust