Thoughts, Fundraising and Thanks for the NHS

Over the last week, my wife and I have had an experience that parents dread: that of our four-week old son being admitted to hospital via accident and emergency and having to have an urgent operation. While it turned out to be a relatively routine operation with good long term prognosis, in the middle of it all, with the uncertainty as to what is happening or might happen, it can be terrifying. We got home yesterday and thanks to the wonderful care we received, he is doing fine, much to our relief.

To say that the staff at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in Central London and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, London were exceptional is an understatement. Everyone we have met has gone out of their way to help our son (and us), and you see them making precisely the same effort with everyone else they encounter, no matter how that person may be behaving towards them. The professionalism and kindness of the NHS staff I have encountered is honestly unparalleled in any other walk of life I have dealt with.

Over the last week, we have seen many sides of the NHS: Evelina’s is a truly amazing and world-class facility; the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich is a little shabby around the edges and is obviously stretched. Both are trying their best with fewer resources than they need. Nowadays everyone struggles for resources, and everyone is fund raising. Children’s hospitals have an ability to pull at heart strings in a way others cannot, and as such can be better at fundraising then others. I will touch on both funding and technology in a little more detail below.

Before I do that however, I must address the question I asked of myself on Sunday when my son returned from surgery: what is the little bit that I personally can do? The first part is some fundraising, and to that point I am planning to run the Edinburgh Half Marathon at the end of May. I would like to invite you to sponsor me in doing so. Originally, I had hoped to do a straight 50/50 split between the two hospitals, but unfortunately, a combination of the platforms the trusts have chosen to use, and the manner in which the platforms themselves are setup prevents this, so you will need to make the choice as to who you support or how you may want to split your donation.

Funding

After spending a week around a children’s hospital, one’s mind turns to thinking about how the NHS is funded, and how people value the service. The problem with free at the point of delivery services is that people can, at times, just take things for granted, and assume they are cheap to provide. The Economist eloquently pointed out the hypocrisy of this with the British public in a recent article. We all want an excellent service: we just don’t want to pay for it. It is the dilemma of public health services in every country, but is a particularly acute problem in Britain.

Would I make changes and start charging? Not at all. Not everyone has the luxury of private health insurance. Having come from a health system in Ireland which is essentially two tier, knowing that anyone in the UK can access the superb level of care our son received makes me happy to pay taxes.

The real question, and one every person living in the UK should be asking is whether, as residents, we wish to pay slightly more to ensure this standard of care. Personally, and believe me I am loathe to call for more taxes, if the revenue raised was ring-fenced I would happily pay.

Improvements & Technology

Now on saying that more funding is needed we must ask can large parts of the NHS be improved? Absolutely. Inefficiencies are obvious throughout the system, in the main due to badly thought out processes which require human interaction where none should be needed. From the wonderful staff nurse at Woolwich who had to spend 40 minutes on the phone to arrange a transfer for us, to how records are transferred between systems, to anyone of thousands of other minor examples, there are a world of improvements that could be made — all of which would allow NHS staff to focus even more on patients.

To the question of what can I do personally, the second part is to try apply some of the skills I have developed in my professional life to a different problem, and do so in my own time, without an agenda. As a technologist, and one who’s job it is to understand the emerging trends in how technology is developed and consumed, I felt somewhere between disheartened and completely dismayed as I watched staff in both NHS trusts battle with poor IT systems and the legacy of billions of pounds-worth of ill judged and badly managed technology contracts, supplemented with poor strategic advice from “top tier” consultancies.

The use (or misuse) of technology within the NHS is a much larger subject than I can cover here, but it is one I intend to research and comment on over the coming year. Suffice to say that almost all of the solutions I can see are not about the technology per say, but about change, people and processes all leveraging technology appropriately. If you are interested in hearing about what I will be doing in this space, receiving updates as the research progresses, or potentially assisting, please do sign up to be notified.

Finally, on a different note my colleagues and friends at RedMonk have been incredibly supportive over the last week. Thank you.