The wonderful world of health technology marches to a peculiar rhythm with a challenging signature tune of massive highs and lows.
Every leap forward seems to be followed by a quicksand moment when progress is sucked down into a gloopy trap that submerges hope.
I’ve lost count of the thoroughbred technology breakthroughs that have been welcomed by the dead-hand of bureaucracy, budget constraint and any procedural leg-iron available; it’s bit like admiring the potential of a sleek greyhound and then asking it to compete in wellington boots.
But there was some recent welcome evidence that the stars can align as a pioneering cancer-bashing ultrasound treatment was revealed at the same as a White Paper lauding the benefits of clinical homecare.
Preventing people being admitted into hospital and making sure their stay is shorter, if the do. Perfect.
The Royal Marsden Hospital is the site of an exciting joint venture between the hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research and Philips who have harnessed the power of ultrasound to treat the corrosive bone pain caused by secondary cancers.
Using MRI scanners to pinpoint the focal point of the pain, the High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) waves – 10,000 times stronger than a pregnancy scan – arrow in and effectively burn away the nerve cells. It works on a similar scientific principle of a magnifying glass narrowing the sun’s rays onto a piece of paper or a leaf which catches fire.
Thankfully, no patients self-combusted during the trials which had incredible results in alleviating pain with the ultrasound passing through skin and tissue without causing any damage. The added bonus is that the precision-guided beam can destroy the tumour as well. Further trials are needed to prove its efficacy but scientists and clinicians believe ultrasound is destined to become a potent weapon in treating primary cancers.
Nine patients have already been treated successfully at the hospital, in Sutton, Surrey, and one woman who could barely walk or sit because of excruciating pain has been able to go on 30-minutes walks and sit on a beach with her family.
This time there are no shackles – trials will be accelerated and more people will be treated.
It gets better as the same week a White Paper underscored the benefits of clinical homecare, a strand omitted from the government’s Five Year Forward health plans.
Homecare must be a vital component in future health as we don’t have the capacity to treat everyone, can’t afford to and, what’s more, there’s an ageing and growing population being factored into the unbalanced equation of NHS care.
Keeping people out of hospital, faster recovery times, fewer readmissions, less bed-blocking and waiting times need to be achieved by more intelligent, connected systems not by the fevered red ink of a faceless accountant torturing the figures.
The paper, funded by Healthcare at Home – (https://www.hah.co.uk) the UK’s largest provider of clinical homecare – was drawn up by a distinguished panel of private health companies, NHS Trusts, academics, charities and industry bodies. The company’s virtual ward model saved 136,000 hospital bed nights across 21 NHS Trusts in 2014.
The evidence from well constructed and delivered schemes is compelling but it is also indicative of the climate that Healthcare at Home felt the need to commission the research. It’s not quite a warning note tied to a brick through the Department of Health’s window but it is more than a polite nudge to government and industry that protocols and thinking are not changing quickly enough.
Don’t slow the greyhound of progress down