Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 27th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Conservative, Watford 8:42 pm, 27th January 2020

I would like to talk a little bit about the future of the NHS. Quite rightly, we have talked a lot about funding, bricks and mortar, nurses and porters, which is fabulous, but we also need to look at where we are heading over the next 10, 20 or 30 years. I think that technology has a big role to play, so I am pleased that the Health Secretary has a great legacy in the digital world. That brings great power to the direction in which the NHS is headed.

Look at how the world has changed. It is no longer just about infrastructure; although that is key, the data we use and how we consume it are also important. We have heard brilliant speeches today about prevention, but prevention is not just about leaflets telling people not to shake hands if they have a cold or the flu; it is about understanding what is happening in the world around us and connecting the dots of data on patient health. Many people in the Chamber probably wear a watch that tracks how many steps they take. Sadly, I never quite hit my target, but the truth is that we are constantly gathering data on what we do and where we go—health statistics. The beauty of this in relation to the NHS in the coming years is that if we overcome the fear of creepiness versus convenience when it comes to data, we can start to think about how data can offer a powerful way to prevent illness, to connect the dots between patients and see trends, to analyse. If we no longer see such data as scary or as a threat to privacy in the way we heard about in the earlier debate about Huawei, we can think about what it might mean in terms of prevention.

There are many opportunities in the future, but there is also a risk of jumping in with innovation that costs a lot of money but gets us nowhere. About 10 years back, in my business capacity, I was involved in a review of every single NHS website in England and Wales. Hon. Members might think that 10 years ago there were perhaps 20 or 30. In fact, there were 4,121 NHS websites. I did a financial calculation as part of that review. This was all in the Health Service Journal. Sadly, my name was not against it, but now it will be—in Hansard. I remember sitting up late doing the analysis, and checking it over and over again. What I found was that the Labour Government back then were spending between £87 million and £121 million a year just to keep those sites live; although, to be fair, it was about innovation. We can look at the way the digital economy is driven and the way the digital world has shifted, but we have to ensure that we are not wasting money. We need to look at outcomes and impact, and how we can use them to prevent, but we also need to look at how we can prevent future illness and issues.

The use of technology in today’s world is going to be a core part of the way we are investing, and of the future of the NHS. We cannot ignore the conversation about demystifying people’s fears around providing their own health data. People are currently very happy to give away their own information by clicking on an ad to buy something at a discount, but they are very fearful of giving their data away for health reasons or sharing it with their GP. Over the next few years, there has to be a really big demystifisation, if there is such a word—that is one for Hansard to work out.