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Andrew's contribution to the Health and Social Care Bill

Posted at 3:20pm 12th October, 2011

My Lords, I am a social entrepreneur who, for 25 years, has danced with the dinosaur-like structures of the NHS. I have had my feet trodden on many times, as colleagues and I have attempted to bring some innovations into primary care. We know from personal experience how difficult it is to bring about a more integrated service and innovation within such bureaucratic and out-of-date structures. The vested interests in the BMA and elsewhere in keeping things unchanged and unchallenged are considerable. At the same time, a nostalgic view of the NHS prevails which is anti-business, but which fails to recognise that most GP practices are small businesses and always have been. Let us be honest. I, for one, wish the Government well with their difficult task in bringing much needed change to the NHS.

While many colleagues will have a lot to say about the new proposed structures in primary care, I will make a few simple but fundamental points that appear to have been overlooked. In my experience, trying to change very large organisations-in this case one of the largest in the world-takes time and a great deal of patience. It will involve getting behind those more entrepreneurial doctors who embrace innovation and a more integrated view of the world. In the experience of my medical colleagues, the offer of the biomedical model alone in primary care is too limited an approach for the kinds of health needs that are presented daily. A more integrated and holistic approach is needed, one which sees a human being as not just a bio-medical machine but a fully rounded integrated person set within a social context. Yet many GPs who are committed to positive changes and who are working with the Government to attempt to bring them about are feeling bamboozled by the torrent of paperwork that is being thrown at them by out-of-date anachronistic structures which only know one game-the old game.

In a culture where people are increasingly, through the use of technology, living in an integrated world where at the push of a button many choices present themselves, it will be difficult for this new generation of entrepreneurial GPs to create a flexible structure and innovative culture in the NHS, which is still dominated by silos and an ideology of health inequalities-an ideology which sounds very fine in theory but which, in practice, has many unintended practical consequences that do not favour the patient.

The entrepreneur Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, who has just died knew that technology can be the way into culture change and his technology has created a wholly new generation who no longer want silo-like responses to their problems but at the touch of a button to find an integrated solution.

I would like humbly to suggest a few small simple innovations that the GPs I work with inform me could make an enormous difference to both practice and culture as we seek to push the NHS forward. I have found that the way into large, seemingly immovable structures and organisations, as an entrepreneur, is often through small, simple things that make a big difference. I therefore ask the Minister the following simple, but vital, questions. First, why has the iPad not been used in hospitals and by GP practices and district nurses as a simple integrated communications tool? Secondly, why is it that a GP in Tower Hamlets cannot Skype a consultant in the London Hospital with the patient by their side? Everyone is increasingly using Skype in the real world to communicate and it is free. My medical colleagues tell me that 99 per cent of their patients see no problem with confidentiality rules. We need to remove a system and ideology that makes simple, obvious tasks so complicated. Thirdly, why is it that chest X-ray forms are different everywhere you go in the country. Why are they not uniform and available everywhere online? Fourthly, why have neither the Department of Health nor NICE produced a standard referral form for all types of referral to hospital?

I am a great supporter of the Government’s decision to go local, but as an entrepreneur I know, as do my GP colleagues, that there is a whole raft of things that do not need to be developed in every part of the country. It is too expensive and unnecessary. I am told that there is a whole raft of rules stopping the modernisation of the NHS. When innovators like me attempted to cut through these rules in East London in some of the poorest housing estates in Britain, I was told by some at the time that the sky would fall in. It did not and the offer to patients improved. This institution desperately needs innovators, not more bureaucrats.

My colleagues and I are attempting at this time to build a new health centre in one of the most difficult housing estates in London-and here I must declare an interest-which is part of an integrated project on a particular estate that includes both a new school and 500 new homes. Every key partner is supporting the project but it is the outdated, overly bureaucratic systems and processes of the PCT that are simply getting in the way. There are some good people in this PCT, but I cannot imagine how they keep their sanity in such structures. I know this is a widespread problem as many people are retiring early across the country and there is far too much sick leave in the NHS. Ill structures make people ill.

How do we make the simple things happen that catalyse the changes that are necessary and make it worth coming to work for? How do we modernise the NHS and give GPs the tools to do it? I suggest that some of this is about enabling them to just use the simple tools of technology that you and I use every day. It is about giving civil servants permission to get behind innovators.

I would like to leave your Lordships with a final clue. Steve Jobs at Apple did not go around asking all his customers what they wanted. He did not consult them to death. He believed that if the product was good enough for him, it was good enough for them. The real test for those who oppose this Bill is: would you walk into the average inner city London GP practice and register yourself as a patient? Would you as a patient rank the quality of care provided there as high? If the answer to these two questions is no, then you need to embrace change within the NHS. Jobs achieved what few politicians do. He embraced entrepreneurship and innovation and created real and sustainable change. He focused on creating small innovations in technology that worked well, and then offered them to the world. On his sick bed, he showed a commitment and attention to detail that I have yet to see in many politicians and civil servants. The easiest way into the NHS impasse is simply to back those GPs and nurses who are not threatened by this new emerging world but who embrace it and grasp it with both hands.

We must back the innovators with a sense of purpose. Learn from those who make change happen. Is change going to be difficult? Will this Government get some things wrong? Yes. Innovation is always like that. The question is: can the organisation learn from mistakes? Can it learn by doing? Can it start walking instead of talking? You cannot hold back the ocean; let it flow.

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