NHS plans could be a win-win for patients and PR

A radical new blueprint for the NHS has been received positively but the rate of change depends on the outcome of 2015's election.

Dr Martin Godfrey: MD of 3 Monkeys Communications Health and Wellness, and a south London GP
Dr Martin Godfrey: MD of 3 Monkeys Communications Health and Wellness, and a south London GP

From a PR standpoint, change is always good. So NHS England’s Five Year Forward View vision promises lots of glad tidings for our industry.

NHS green papers have a nasty habit of ­transmogrifying into one (or sometimes all) of the four ­horsemen of the apocalypse. So what a surprise to see so much positive being written about it.

Six months into his new job, Simon Stevens, the new chief executive of NHS England, has clearly been talking to those on the front line (including hopefully one or two health ­comms experts) and he and his team have come up with proposals that could well soften, if not resolve, many of the most ­contentious issues that have bedevilled the health service.

The most radical option is the development of Accountable Care Organisations, bodies similar to those already working successfully in some European countries such as Spain and in parts of the US. Cutting through the gobbledygook, this means a single organisation taking responsibility for all of a local population’s health needs. No more divide between GPs and patients and consultants and hospitals.

This could see a major hospital trust doing everything in its area, employing GPs and community health staff as well as acute care. What this means is better continuity of care ­(provided, dare I ­mention it, that the digital systems are in place to allow a seamless integration of ­services).

Another important and much welcomed priority will be a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. The NHS says it will back hard-hitting ­national action on obesity, smoking, alcohol and other major health risks. Local groups will support workplace ­incentives to promote employee health and cut sickness-related unemployment. And NHS England will advocate stronger public health-related powers for local government.

And last but not least, a far bigger role for patients and ­carers. Patients will gain far ­greater control when they need health services. Plus the 1.4 million full-time unpaid carers in England will get new support – the NHS promises to become a better partner with voluntary ­organisations and local communities.

This is big picture stuff and sceptics will argue that it will take years to develop these new models of care (and don’t forget an election is just around the corner). From a PR standpoint, change is always good, but this time it could be a win-win.

Predictions for 2015

1. 2015 will be the year of wearable health technology, from diagnostics and monitors to ‘treatment on the run’.
2. Look out for consolidation within the health world with big mergers in pharma as well as the medical device world.
3. The election in May seems highly likely to bring some dramatic changes. Keep an eye on UKIP’s manifesto promises for healthcare – like everything else it may well become a bellwether for policy change in all the other parties.

Dr Martin Godfrey is managing director of 3 Monkeys Communications Health and Wellness, and a south London GP

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