The Royal Institution is the crucible where scientific thinking has been tested and developed for more than for more than 200 years so it was a fitting venue to ask What is the future of healthcare?
It’s a big question.
With an ageing population living with multiple conditions, and resources – financial and structural – struggling to keep pace with demand, the issue is a collider for science, health, society and politics.
The points of view were wide-ranging and displayed the need for research, innovation and collaboration across all the disciplines involved in getting therapies to the people that need them most.
But the ingenuity and persistence that drives drug discovery and medical technology advances also needs to be harnessed with practical approaches that navigate education, awareness and regulation.
It will take a mosaic of responses to come prevent healthcare systems fracturing into oblivion.
The panel featured Dave Dawes, of the Future Care Capital think tank, Professor Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Nick Crabb, programme director, scientific affairs at NICE, the government’s health agency that rules on what drugs and devices meet strict criteria for approval and funding.
Their perspectives varied but settled on common ground that societal changes were needed to create equitable healthcare, get technological advances into the public’s hands and promote individual responsibility to energise a movement in preventative health.
An audience of around 150, gathered at the Institution’s fabled lecture theatre, heard about the need to get the best from limited financial resources, how healthcare spending needed recalibrating to support preventative health and how advances in vaccination programmes had been shaken by the anti-vax movement, putting children, families and communities in peril.
Beate Kampmann illustrated the acute need to incorporate human behaviour and understanding into health policy by reporting that measles cases in the UK are rising because of vaccination refusal caused, largely, by ill-informed anti-vax campaigns.
Nick Crabb emphasised that health systems were facing an ‘affordability challenge’ and there was an imperative to make the best of technology so that people could retain their independence in the community rather than depend on hospitals and clinics. He added: “We end up in a bit of a moral dilemma because when people are in trouble, there is an expectation from themselves, their families and carers that the NHS is going to look after them.
“There has been an enormous amount of innovation in the life sciences industry that are allowing significant extensions to life and improvements to quality of life through innovative and expensive products and working through that is going to be a really big challenge for the next generation . I think financially sustainable care is crucial.”
Dave Dawes highlighted that 21% of the UK’s population would be over 60 by 2050 – the Office of National Statistics estimates that 20.4 million people will be aged 65 or over by 2066, a 26% increase on current figures. He added that, although achieving good health needed to address factors such as housing, wealth, taxation and family backgrounds, a key challenge was educating the public to be aware of their own health and how they can influence it.
Constructing healthcare systems that can function for the next generation will take ingenuity, innovation and a steely determination to create more flexible and effective technologies, therapies and systems.
It was clear from the evening, and responses from the audience, that more discussion and debate are needed to build that future. Ignoring the tough questions and even tougher decisions is not an option.
- The event was supported by Medtronic and was the first four debates on the Future of Healthcare.