The Rt Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, spoke to PCR about how technology is shaping the healthcare sector.
He was giving a keynote during the E-Health Week event yesterday at London Olympia to health experts, NHS organisations, clinicians and more.
PCR asked the conservative MP what his vision for the healthcare sector would be following his target of making the NHS ‘paperless’ for 2018. We asked what kind of technology he expects to become commonplace in hospitals over the next ten years or so, such as tablets, and what opportunities there may be for computer suppliers in the future.
"I think there are going to be absolutely huge opportunities," he replied. "I wouldn’t want to predict how the technology industry is going to evolve, but someone mentioned Airedale Hospital earlier and I would say that telehealth is going to be something that I think is… very underestimated at the moment as a resource in terms of care for the elderly.
"The ability to connect to a hospital doctor or nurse through your TV screen by pressing a red button, as they have in Airedale, I think is something that could be incredibly powerful in terms of keeping people healthy and secure, living at home without the need for expensive 24/7 nursing care.
"So that’s an area where I expect to see a lot more things happening."
Jeremy Hunt also responded to reports that a healthcare tech fund helping hospitals improve their IT had been cut.
"What we’ve actually done with the tech fund is stage the rollout rather than cut it in absolute terms," he said. "We’re completely committed, but in the context of finding an extra £2 billion for the NHS front line over the course of next year, which is a huge amount of money going into every part of the NHS, we have also had to make difficult decisions in other parts of the system.
"But my view is it’s really important to increase investment in IT, because in terms of of long-term sustainably and efficiency, really investing properly in IT… there is nothing more important."
The Health Secretary actually started his keynote by holding up a USB stick and asking the audience to guess what was on it.
While the "Angry Birds" and "every patient in Britain" answers shouted out drew some laughs from the crowd, the Secretary of State revealed that the stick contained an entire human genome, consisting of three bilion pairs of DNA letters.
"This is an incredible thing because this took 13 years and £2 billion of research to get to the point where we could do this," he said. "And we can now do an entire genome in two days for £1,000. This is really going to change absolutely everything.
"What will change is the combination of what’s on this USB stick and electronic health records. If you could imagine looking at the genome of someone who had for example early stage bowel cancer, and then looking at their electronic health record to see what was happening with their medical history 20 years earlier, you would have an extraordinary treasure trove of information that would allow us to de-code and understand disease in a way that’s never been possible before."
"David Cameron thinks that genomics will be as significant for humanity as the internet, so that’s why he is absolutely determined the UK should play the leading role in genomics research. We want to be the first country in the world to decode 100,000 genomes and put them in the hands of independent researchers so we can build a life sciences hub around it."
Jeremy Hunt also spoke of the ageing population (we have more than one million over 65s since the last election), and the importance of older people needing a different type of healthcare.
He also spoke about personalised healthcare and a focus on electronic health records, while he admitted his goal for a paperless NHS by 2018 was probably his ‘maddest promise’.
The Tory politician was in a lighthearted mood, telling the audience that the NHS is the fifth largest organisation in the world, behind the likes of Walmart and McDonald’s, before admitting he does ‘have the occasional Big Mac’.
He also said that by the end of April 95 per cent of English NHS patients will be able to access their own personal health record online.