Our NHS Needs An Innovative Future - Today We're Outlining Labour's Five Point Plan

We are pledging to make our NHS the most innovative health service in the world
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In the words of Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, “the service must always be changing, growing and improving.”

If we are to sustain the NHS for the next 70 years and beyond, I believe we need an NHS with a strong bias towards innovation, investing in the technologies of the future.

I’ve seen for myself some of the great innovations in the NHS.

Recently I saw first-hand the remarkable advanced medical imaging devices for use during minimally invasive procedures on the vascular ward at Southampton General Hospital.

I’ve seen how interactive ID pancels were being placed above every bed at the Royal Lancaster, to enable nurses and doctors to see key information about a patient at a glance. This solved a critical problem for medical staff- the lack of a standardised way of recording patient information.

And last month the world’s eyes were on Leicester, the city I represent, when we witnessed the extraordinary innovation at Leicester University Hospital Trust, safely bringing baby Vanellope born with her heart outside her chest into the world.

However, the challenges facing the NHS of 2018 are of a different scale and nature to the challenges facing Bevan’s NHS of 1948.

I believe those challenges involve the ageing population, chronic conditions and growing health inequalities.

In 1948, 11 per cent of the UK population was 65 or over, life expectancy for women was 71 and for men, 66. Today those figures are 82 and 79 respectively.

Looking ahead, by 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75 and the number of over 85s is set to double over the next 20 years.

As well as integrating services to meet the demands of an ageing population we also have to take account of the demands of geography, as my Labour colleague Lisa Nandy has shown.

For example, there are now sharp disparities in ageing between our cities and towns, even within regions. These in themselves have huge implications for health and social care services in towns and cities over the next 20 years.

We must also respond to the reality that the very nature of ill-health is fundamentally changing too, with a relative shift away from acute illness, towards chronic conditions, multi-morbidities, cognitive impairments and long-term frailty.

No longer should we consider the health service as a sickness service concerned with relieving the suffering of infectious disease but we must genuinely think of it as an actual health service supporting people to live with chronic conditions such as, for example, diabetes or arthritis that have become a permanent feature of life.

We must support innovations to help improve services that support people to take more responsibility and control.

And just as use as we must find better ways to support those with chronic conditions we must also confront growing health inequalities too.

We know that where you are born still has a major impact on your health outcomes in life. Obesity is twice as common amongst children living in the most deprived areas, as compared to children in the most privileged areas, whilst Sir Michael Marmot has warned that since 2010 the life expectancy of our population has started to widen again between the poorest areas and the English average.

Part of the answer is reversing the cuts to public health and I’ve committed the Labour Party to a big ambition to improve the health and wellbeing of every child.

And at the last general election we pledged an additional £45 billion across a Parliament for health and social care, in recognition of the underfunding and staffing crisis facing the NHS and social care sector.

As well as properly funding our NHS, we must also boost the uptake and spread of innovation across the health service.

The NHS currently sets aside less than 0.1% of available resources for the adoption and spread of innovation, with approximately £50 million spent on supporting the spread and adoption of innovation through the Academic Health Sciences Network.

We must encourage innovation as, in some respects, we are falling behind.

Take cancer for example. The Lancet has recently reported that the UK has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Western Europe. It’s my ambition that by investing in innovations, investing in new technologies and expanding R&D, the UK will proudly move up the league tables and boast the best rates of cancer survival, diagnosis and treatment anywhere in the world.

So today I’m outlining Labour’s Five Point Plan for Innovation. We are pledging to make our NHS the most innovative health service in the world.

We will create a National Innovation Fund, double the funding for networks whose role it is to foster and spread the uptake of innovation, and review the potential of cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence - building on the crucial work of Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.

And we will seek to listen and learn from our frontline clinicians and staff who understand the problems, and potential solutions, the NHS faces at a local level better than anyone.

As Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care I’m inpatient for change and it’s why a Labour government will make the investment available to ensure an innovative, pioneering National Health Service is sustainable for the next generation.

Jon Ashworth is the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Labour MP for Leicester South


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