This week I wanted to share this story written by Rohan Silva in the Evening Standard. It echoes exactly my own experiences with NHS AND giant cancer charities. There are so many people out there with incredibly innovative ideas that cost little to implement but the doors are shut in our face. Why is that when we all know how poor cancer services are in the UK. My experience is that this is much worse than what is portrayed in this article and is a scandal in the making!!
“It’s always great to come across a man — or a woman — on a mission. Michael Seres is one of those people. When he was 12 he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an incurable bowel condition, and his health sadly deteriorated over the next three decades. By the time he was in his 40s — and after 20 operations — Seres suffered intestinal failure, and was constantly sick, so he had to be fed via a drip for 22 hours a day. As he later recalls: “For 18 months I was in hospital and would just see my kids on a Sunday.”
The only hope was a bowel transplant — but this kind of operation is incredibly rare and risky. At the time, only 10 people in the UK had ever had this procedure done — and tragically, only half of them had survived. In 2011, Seres was the 11th. When he woke up after surgery, he realised that he now had a colostomy bag, which collected waste from the body and had to be emptied manually.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to work very well — the bag constantly leaked and spilled out. What’s more, it was really hard to tell exactly how much waste was coming out, which is important information for doctors to evaluate how you’re getting on. Seres decided there must be a better way of doing things, so he cobbled together some bits from an old mobile phone and a Nintendo video game machine — and used them to equip his colostomy bag with sensors so that it would beep whenever it was full.
So began 11 Health — a company that Seres founded to design colostomy bags with ever more sophisticated technology, so that they’re easier and less uncomfortable for patients to use.
That’s not all — Seres’ latest bags also allow doctors to monitor patients remotely and instantly analyse exactly what’s coming out of their body, and so work out what fluids and medicines they might need to put back in.
For 120,000 people in the UK living with colostomy bags, this type of technology could make a big difference to their quality of life — as well as to their health. And it has the potential to save huge amounts of money for the NHS — because at the moment, so many patients end up with complications due to the difficulty of managing colostomy bags, which led to big recurring costs for the health system. So far, so inspiring. But that’s where the good news ends — for British patients anyway. Because after he started his company in 2013, Seres spent three long and frustrating years trying to get his new colostomy bags used by the NHS — and got nowhere.
It was almost as if every part of the health system was designed to keep new innovations out — from incorrect information on NHS websites (which meant months wasted filling in the wrong forms), to emails and queries that went unanswered, or bureaucratic processes that wasted time and money in equal measure. So in 2016, Seres felt he had no choice but to move his company to the US. Within nine months he’d received regulatory approval and his colostomy bags were being used by patients in hospitals across the country. Sadly, there are lots of other examples of our health system being closed to new technologies that could reduce costs — and improve patients’ lives.
Take Sleepio, co-founded in 2012 by Peter Hames, a young British psychology graduate who found himself afflicted with chronic insomnia. Hames ended up partnering with an Oxford don named Professor Colin Espie, and started a company that uses software to help people get to sleep — without expensive or addictive drugs.
After five years talking to the NHS with no real results, Hames relocated to the US, where Sleepio is now used by more than a million people. But even though this approach worked brilliantly, they spent five years talking to the NHS with no real results, so Hames relocated to the US where Sleepio is now used by more than a million people, helping to improve their quality of life, and significantly reducing medical bills.
You see this kind of story again and again. The NHS is brilliant in all kinds of ways, and full of dedicated staff who work around the clock to save lives and look after patients. But when it comes to adopting innovations and new ways of doing things, the NHS doesn’t do very well — especially if you compare it to healthcare systems in other developed nations.
In the words of a government report on this issue: “The spread of inventions within the NHS has often been too slow, and sometimes even the best of them fail to achieve widespread use.”
This is obviously sad for patients, who can’t access the latest treatments. But at a time of growing financial pressure on the NHS, it also means our health system is missing out on efficiency savings that are needed more than ever.
Just this week, a new report suggested that rising health costs could see every household in the country paying an extra £2,000 a year in tax to keep the NHS financially viable.
It’s good there’s such a high-profile debate about the health budget — but it’s a shame that so little attention is being paid to how new technologies can help save costs, and improve the overall quality of care.
As a study by the NHS put it: “Unless innovations spread beyond pockets of excellence and into everyday practice, the NHS will struggle to produce the improvements in quality and productivity it requires.” It’s a fiendishly tough challenge to change the culture and processes of the NHS in this way. But then again, nothing worth doing is ever easy.
The NHS is amazing. But as Seres’s story shows, if our health system was more open to innovation and new technologies, it would be even better.”
I would like to thank Rohan for writing this article and would encourage the many of you out there that experience this issue daily to comment below. Thank you!!