A long-term vision for healthcare is vital in trade negotiations
The importance of having a clearly articulated and shared long-term vision of where, at a system level, healthcare is going was brought into sharp relief by the furore over the past few days as to whether the NHS would be ‘on the table’ in any post-Brexit future trade negotiations with US.
Whether or not healthcare (however ‘healthcare’ is defined) is on the table in any coming negotiations, the need for a wider understanding of the oncoming revolution in the nature of healthcare has become orders of magnitude more urgent.
Beyond the Fog provides no direction on the impact of Brexit or otherwise on the future provision of healthcare. Nor does it make any recommendations on how it should be provided other than an assumption that we want to protect the key principle of healthcare free at the point of need for everyone (the principle at the heart of the NHS for 70 years and of the Royal Free Charity — who commissioned the report — for 190 years).
Rather it is intended as a framework and provocation for informed debate on these key issues. An attempt to create a shared context based on longer time horizons and a system level of view of what healthcare could look like if all the current megatrends in the sector land at scale as expected.
We believe that the trajectory of the trends in technology and medicine provide the opportunity for:
· transformational improvements in the nation’s levels of health and wellbeing
· a pathway to building a sustainable, integrated 21st Century public health and care system
· an engine for economic growth and social renewal
So, let’s imagine a trade negotiation where aspects of the healthcare industry are raised. It won’t be a standalone discussion — it will be one of a number of things on the table: the negotiation will be a complex system in itself.
If our negotiators go into it with a ‘starting from here’ mindset, how will they be able to articulate the value of what we are trading?
The danger is that there will be too much focus on what is not working in a system designed for a previous age and not enough on the extraordinary achievement of the UK healthcare system, the values on which it is based and, most importantly, its potential if we can align around a shared view of the future and the ambition to make it happen to take advantage of accelerating medical and technology advances.
We don’t know enough to know what elements of the system would need to be maintained within the UK for this to be a realistic possibility.
But in a multi-faceted trade negotiation with the US — and with many policymakers not really understanding the scale and potential of what is coming down the line — there is a huge danger that our negotiators will not understand the value of what they are trading or what could be lost if they get the negotiation wrong.
This is about the long-term health and wellbeing of the nation — and the potential to be a world leader in the coming era of healthcare. We must not sleepwalk our way into giving it away.
Policy makers need to engage with a long-term vision. Like, now.
Download Beyond the Fog summary report here.