The NHS at 68: The growing role of healthtech

In the last 68 years, the role of the NHS has been globally revered and respected for its part in ensuring the health and wellbeing of the UK population. In that time medical devices, digital health technology and patient services have benefitted hugely from digital health, says Lu Rahman

Happy birthday to the National Health Service.

I was baby number 14,815,513 to be born on the NHS – the year in which infant mortality rates were 15.1 babies in every 1,000. Today it’s 3.9.

This week the NHS celebrated 68 years. With the on-going junior doctor issues, press reports on everything from bed blocking to overworked GPs to the privatisation of services, it’s good to have something positive for the media to hang its hat on at last.

And of course there is a lot to celebrate. Since 1946 medical services and diagnostics have dramatically improved under the NHS. Thanks to developments in medical devices, digital health technology and pharmaceutical breakthroughs, we can all expect to live longer and access world-class care should we need it.

In the last 68 years, the NHS has played a significant role working towards the eradication of diseases such as measles, polio, whooping cough and diphtheria. Life expectancy has increased as have patient outcomes to major diseases.

Birth of the digital

Since my birth at least another 30 million babies have been born. Times have changed for the expectant mum. While my parents had to make do with Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care for advice, today’s mum-to-be can pick and choose from a range of apps and digital devices aimed at informing and making pregnancy as easy as possible.

Recognising the role digital has to play in conception, pregnancy and birth, the NHS announced earlier this year that many mobile apps and digital devices would be made available on the NHS.

At the last NHS Confederation Conference in Manchester, Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, announced that a range of devices would be made available free to patients on the NHS. It was also announced that the Medelinked mobile health app that encourages patient engagement would also be free to patients and healthcare professionals.

Products for this area are plenty. Billed as the ‘number one labour coach’ the Doula multi-lingual app aims to make contractions as easy as possible playing soothing music and offering a contraction timer with graph plus breathing assistance button. Other digital offerings include Baby Buddy, endorsed by the Department of Health; Baby Bump, a daily pregnancy tracker and Sprout which offers 3D images from inside the womb.

All parents will also be familiar with the red book – or Personal Child Health. This too is in the process of having a digital make-over. A software developer has been working with five NHS trusts across London to try out the new eRedbook which should improve access to children’s health information for both parents and medical staff.

Power to the patient

The appointment system has also had changed in the last 68 years – the NHS’ Patient Online service not only allows patients to book appointments online but to request repeat prescriptions and view their own health records. Making life easier for the patient, systems like this also play critical role in empowering the patient – a key step in the process to make the individual feel a part of their treatment as well as taking responsibility for our own health.

Digital devices

Part of the patient empowerment process in the last 68 years is down to the rise of remote monitoring and digital devices allowing individuals more control over conditions where possible. One example is Diabetacare which helps people manage their diabetes through the use of technology and big data. It provides a diabetes monitoring and care service that has both connected devices as well as a cloud-based solution which both doctors and patients can access.

In the 68 years since the creation of the NHS its range of services has changed significantly – patients have the choice to speak to a doctor face to face, by phone and even by Skype for a diagnosis. Electronic prescription services are now on offer and for those with longer term conditions health medical devices are offering a new way for patients to manage their illness and treatment at home.

Cancer too is benefitting from digital health solutions. Smart phones offer diagnostic abilities and centres across the UK are adopting digital technology for diagnosis and treatment. According to Top Masters in Healthcare the Christie NHS Foundation Trust was named as one of the most technologically advanced cancer centres on a global level – ranked nine in the world outside of North America. Cancer has been one of the three major causes of death since the NHS was created – rising from 17% then to 29% of deaths today so breakthroughs in technology are vital for further success in fighting the illness.

Digital technology is also being used for clinical trials – one even used Facebook to recruit – and a digital pill has also been developed which has huge potential including helping with adherence to certain medication.

Today, the NHS in England sees over 1 million people every 36 hours. Increased pressure on staff and costs mean the role of digital technology is never more crucial to its on-going success and development.












Lu oversees the content for all of the publications within the Rapid Life Sciences portfolio, which includes Digital Health Age, Medical Plastics News, Med-Tech Innovation Magazine and European Pharmaceutical Manufacturer. Reach Lu at

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