Future Health Forum

Future Health Forum


The third and final day of Future Health Forum saw the conclusion of ongoing discussion between think-tank members from the healthcare community and defence community, raising the prospect of collaboration to develop robust medical technologies.

John Erbetta of DERA, the defence research agency that is also Europe''s largest research organisation of any kind. said: "While defence research horizons can extend to 2030, healthcare horizons are much shorter. It is in the long-term view of technical strategy that defence organisations can make a major impact, together with their developing ''what-if'' scenarios (successful defence systems must cater for the unexpected).

"However significant resources are needed to successfully exploit technologies (and practices) from around the world and there could be sense in actually combining the base technology watching for both defence and health, after all both users are interested in technologies that are both robust and easy to use."

Keith Smith, Marketing Manager at DERA, added: "Defence technology R&D; benefits from the strength of a dedicated organisation with huge capability that focuses upon the future and problem solving. Scanning technologies and assessing their potential is only part of the answer. Most of the NHS R&D; money seems to be directed (rightly so) toward medical research. I would suggest that there is a requirement for similar support to the NHS as is enjoyed by the MoD, indeed a cooperative of medical, technology and industry R&D; is what will provide significant benefit rather than industry saying ''what do you want'' and the medical profession replying ''what have you got to show us''. The extraction of knowledge and needs develops requirements, these create a future focus that can then be turned into useful products.

Oliver Wells, Vice Chairman of the Association of British Healthcare Industries, said: "the NHS differs substantially from the defence industry in that it seldom identifies strategic needs and then looks for ways to satisfy them. A more strategic role for the Purchasing and supplies agency is under development now. What resources does it need to make a real impact in terms of developing and implementing solutions to health needs?

Marian Willmer, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Brighton, said: "Another issue is that of culture, and its impact on the uptake and use of technologies. Often end-users i.e. clinicians are not actively involved in the design of information systems. Unless we start to involve them the Government''s targets in Information for health are in danger of not being reached."

Mark Duman of Encyclomedica helped round off the debate by pointing out the importance of ensuring everyone has access to essential health information in the Internet era. "We must ensure that information technology does not become another factor in widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We should develop information for delivery in multiple formats including ''old economy'' print and ensure we ask our target audiences how we can deliver information in the medium that best suits their needs.

"If information is regarded as an intervention, as a core ingredient of health care services, then the least we can do is to ask patients, and the public at large, to express their preferences. Perhaps health professionals should be asking about information needs when taking medical histories?"

Finally, Ray Rowden, Special Adviser to the Commons Select Committee on Health and Member of the NHS Plan Task Force on Quality Services, asked why the NHS seemed to have such a bad record in technology research and development compared with almost any other sector one can name.

"Why is it that the best commercial organisations usually get this right? Why can airlines, banks the pharmaceutical industry, telecommunications etc. get systems that are fit for purpose, yet the NHS seems not able to do so?"

Dr Sandy Bell, Technical Director (Innovation and Strategy) at DERA, had the perfect response: "I don''t think [others do get it right] all the time - their shortfalls are just a little less public :-) "

Future Health Forum has now closed - watch this space for details of the full debate report, to be published in the New Year.




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