With the country experiencing a state of total, partial or local lockdown over the past 18 months, the NHS has had no choice but to tear up the normal procurement rules and embrace digital ways of providing clinical services in record time.
In a blog post we wrote in September 2019, we quoted National chief clinical information officer Simon Eccles as saying that the NHS was “living in the dark ages” when it comes to tech. He said that other industries, such as agriculture and shipping, have made “phenomenal leaps” towards digitisation. He stressed that more money needs to be invested into technology across Trusts to bring them up to speed. He suggested: “We are spending less than 2% in many of our organisations on our full digital infrastructure and technology.”
Fast forward to 2021 and, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners, in the four weeks leading up to 12th April 2020, about 71% of routine consultations were now remote [by phone or using video consultations].
Whether this tech revolution will be lasting or simply a medtech boom followed by a medtech bust now the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, only time will tell.
But, the Government is certainly showing its hand early. In September last year it awarded £32 million for transformative technology and £36 million this year for AI projects under the National AI Lab for innovation in care and diagnostics in the NHS.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, has also made some strong statements recently on how technology can solve the many post-pandemic challenges that we are currently facing, including reducing NHS waiting lists:
“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”
It’s not only the Government that is committing to lasting tech change. Dr Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, was recently quoted as saying: “Having the technological capability to offer remote consultations, where appropriate, will be beneficial for general practice, the wider NHS and most importantly our patients, long after this pandemic has ended.”
One could argue that for tech suppliers there is now, more than ever, a greater appetite for technology driven solutions to address the most pressing needs of local NHS providers. But, for SMEs especially, it can still be a tough market to make inroads.
Figures from the govspend.org website show that at the end of Oct 2019 63% of spending by NHS Digital was still going to non-SMEs.
High profile tech failures, such as glitches in video consultations provided by software firm Attend Anywhere in May 20, don’t make for good reading either, and do little for the SME cause.
All is not lost though. SMEs just need to do more to help themselves: building awareness, being correctly positioned and effectively communicating with NHS providers is half the battle won.
There is a necessity to show how you have helped hospitals, GPs, mental health and community services – sharing examples of best practice and guiding health providers through experience.
Ultimately, SMEs need to get better at creating stories and telling them, understanding which channels to use to reach the right audiences, and how to use that content to support your sales team and pipeline.