Analogue politicians lack vision to save 'terminal' NHS
Let's not kid ourselves: the NHS, in its current form at least, is terminal.
The disease is not just financial but strategic, too. Basically, we're all out of ideas -- or at least our politicians are. Sadly, their views count.
In recent weeks and months, all three main parties have outlined their policies for taking the nation's health service all the way to 2020. The NHS, each knows, is the big one, and could well decide who gets the keys to government in May.
Spin and gloss
As a result, you'd expect some big, bold and future-looking ideas -- but you'd be disappointed.
Once you've broken the pledges down, and cut through all the spin and gloss, they amount to little more than throwing hard cash at the problem: an extra £2bn in the case of the Conservatives, and more still for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Unfortunately, workmanlike policies based on money alone will not save the NHS. Hard cash will stem the haemorrhage, yes, but only for so long.
The reality is that the structural issues facing the NHS -- an ageing population, steady rise in non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and self-inflicted health issues such as obesity -- are placing an unbearable pressure on it.
It's only a matter of time before it goes under.
Internet of Things
To really haul the NHS back from the brink, we need one of our political parties to have the balls to be disruptive, to completely tear up the rule book, even if it takes some years for the results to genuinely start coming through.
We need, dare I say it, a vision for the NHS in the digital age -- and for me that vision is firmly rooted in mobile apps and the Internet of Things, such as wearable tech.
Most readers, by now, will be familiar with the growing number of wearable devices and mobile phone apps that are already providing millions of people with continuous feedback on their health -- everything from weight and exercise levels to sleep patterns and pulse rate.
But these mainstream devices and apps are really only scratching the surface of what is increasingly being referred to as the 'quantified self'.
We are already seeing the arrival of far more sophisticated wearable tech devices that can continuously measure, for example, blood pressure, liver health, blood sugar levels and the activity of the heart.
Hell, in the US, there are even bandages going into production that tell you how a wound is healing -- not to mention tablets with in-built sensors that can relay key information about your body right from the front lining of the stomach, so to speak.
And it's in the more sophisticated devices and sensors currently being manufactured where there is the most potential for the NHS.
After all, there's nothing to stop these devices and sensors being linked -- en masse -- to healthcare professionals, as well as the individuals wearing them. Instantly, this gives doctors and nurses a way to monitor the health of their patients remotely - hundreds, thousands or even millions of them.
Real-time, remote triage
They'd then be able to intervene at the first sign of a problem, diagnose health issues from afar, and tell people when they need to come in for treatment -- or, equally importantly for our packed A&Es, stay at home instead.
These wearable devices would be working not just to keep people healthy all of the time -- the idea of 'self care' -- but would be lifting the strain on the NHS by acting as a real-time and remote nationwide triage.
The gains don't have to stop there, either. The data being generated by millions of 'quantified selves' would give healthcare researchers and scientists a treasure trove of information that could make all the difference to the work they do developing new diagnoses and treatments.
Nationwide clinical trial
After all, patient trials are a crucial step for healthcare and pharma companies launching new treatments, but no trial has ever operated on the scale that wearable technology today makes possible.
Taking the right data from the right people wearing the right devices, the possibilities, even if they take a while to mature, are endless.
If only our analogue politicians, with their technallergic policies, could see that.