My Lords, I thank my noble friend, Lord Darzi, for securing this debate, which has demonstrated how important our National Health Service is to the lives of so many in this House. I was very proud of the IPPR report—I was a long-standing trustee of the IPPR. I am an engineer; I am not a doctor. I design cars. However, I am married to a midwife, as well as the proud father of both a dietician and a recently qualified junior doctor; I have taken a great interest in this area. On that note, I should draw attention to my interests in the register.
This debate asks how the National Health Service can serve our nation in future. I want to raise two examples of how digital technology can improve our national health. Today the National Health Service is far from being a digital organisation. In fact, it is the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines. However, current digital resources can be used to improve future NHS services. In radiology, the NHS has held images and reports for a decade: millions of X-rays, scans and diagnoses. At the same time, radiologists face ever greater time pressure. Only seconds can be given to reviewing each new X-ray. This leads to outsourcing to expensive tele-radiology firms, which then make a lot of mistakes that cause a lot of errors.
We have an opportunity to build artificial intelligence systems that use the NHS’s historical data to identify which new X-rays radiologists should examine first. It is a form of digital triage. At my place we are developing such a system for chest X-rays. In future, the same principles could be applied to CT scans and MRIs.
Data anonymisation is essential, but, as my very good friend Dame Julie Moore of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, with which we are co-operating, said, no patients have refused consent to her trust collecting outpatient data.
Another way we can improve the use of current data by the NHS is with patients who have multiple chronic conditions. These cases are so complex that the causes of worsening symptoms may not be apparent even to experienced healthcare professionals. Furthermore, when multiple treatments are prescribed the patient can be overwhelmed. These patients do not need to present to a GP or an A&E as often as they do. A digital care planning programme could intelligently understand how treatments interact, prompt patients to medicate correctly and allow healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely. Such technology and devices are available now. This would reduce the pressure on front-line NHS providers and provide better care to patients at home or in social care.
We desperately need to support innovation if the NHS is to succeed for the next 70 years. Sadly, as the Science and Technology Committee report on life sciences has said, the structure of the NHS stifles innovation. Innovation is a topic I am familiar with. We have been innovating in British manufacturing industry for a long time. We need to transform the way the NHS applies new technologies. To achieve this we need strong leadership on innovation in the National Health Service. Innovation is simply essential and is very easy to use. However it is important that we have the skills base to use it.