By Mark Burton, Health & Social Care Lead, Virgin Media O2 Business

I’ve found health is always about finding balance. A balance between physical and mental health. A balanced approach to exercise and diet.

Today, the UK healthcare system finds itself in a balance of its own.

On one side of the scales there are workforce challenges. Waiting lists are growing longer and patients are faced with very real and understandable concerns as to when they will receive treatment.

Our Battle for Talent research also found that technology is still a pain point for a lot of people; 47% of healthcare professionals are always or often frustrated by the quality of or lack of operational technology, and a further 45% say their performance is negatively impacted by their current tech.

On the other side of the scales lie operational opportunities born from the rapid digital transformation we’ve seen over the past few years and which we continue to see today. As of 2023, over 28 million people have the NHS app and 40 million have an NHS login. 2022 also saw £150 million of funding announced for digital adoption in the UK. Digital adoption is no longer a thing of the future for UK healthcare – we’re very much in the thick of it.

But it’s important to remember that healthcare decision-makers needn’t try and balance these challenges and opportunities alone.

Today, the role of partnerships is vital if we’re to create an improved NHS, including shorter wait times, improved diagnosis and treatment of patients – not to mention preventative care. In the words of the NHS Digital plan, “Together we can succeed in laying the foundations of a brighter digital future by 2025 and beyond.”

Time for a partner check-up?

The direction of travel towards digital transformation is clear. NHS England has officially merged with NHS Digital to help further transform working practices, find efficiencies and improve patient outcomes.

It’s a move which, according to Laura Wade-Gery, Non-Executive Director at NHS England and Chair of NHS Digital will give the NHS, “the culture, operating model, skills, capabilities and processes to put data, digital and technology at the heart of how we transform health services.”

As the NHS harnesses digital technology to empower its staff and patients, it’s time for Integrated Care Systems/Boards (ICSs & ICBs) and their Trusts to look to their digital suppliers for more support. Questions must be asked.

Questions like, ‘Is my provider offering the level of consultancy I need?’, ‘Do they have the best interests of my organisation at heart?’, ‘Am I getting the best value out of this relationship?’ and ‘Are they a true partner, or just a supplier?’

Now isn’t the time to temper digital transformation ambitions. ICB’s which can lean on their partners to unlock efficiencies and make the most out of digital investment will be in the best position to provide improved working processes for their workforce, leading to a better level of patient care through efficiencies, enhanced by digital transformation.

Because ultimately, healthcare is about supporting people. And so is technology. So, what should partner support look like in 2023?

Getting to the heart of your needs

True consultancy starts with you.

Your organisation may have experienced rapid short-term transformation in recent years. But now, it’s time to look to your long-term strategy.

The right partner should do more than provide technology or a service. With partnership comes consultation on your organisational needs and objectives, your digital ambitions, and specialist information and advice to give you a better view and be able to adapt to changes that happen along the way – allowing you to make faster and more informed decisions.

Cybersecurity, data management, interoperability, connectivity and digital transformation – healthcare decision-makers will benefit from partner expertise on any one of these topics, allowing them to focus their energies on improving patient and staff experiences.

A ‘finger on the pulse’ provider

The launch of the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital at Bethlem Royal Hospital, South London, shows how empowering the right approach to partnership can be for patient outcomes. The 5G network connects mission-critical hospital activity includes smart medicine storage and e-observations to support staff.

This investment in core infrastructure is enabling trials of more innovative technologies in NHS hospitals such as IoT (Internet of Things), AR (Augmented Reality) and AI (Artificial Intelligence). It’s expected the trials will save clinicians time, improve patient records, reduce medicine waste and even improve air quality.

Stuart MacLellan, Acting Chief Information Officer at South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, said, “Exploring and using the latest technology supports our core strategic aim to deliver outstanding mental health care for people who use our services, their carers and families.”

This partnership with Virgin Media O2 Business is one of many examples of a technology strategy built around organisational goals.

But it’s not always about innovation. For some ICSs/ICBs and Trusts, repeated network drop-outs are far more of a focus. In situations like these, it’s vital to have a strategic partner which can offer a smooth transition to a cloud-based network, such as SD-WAN. These essential infrastructure shifts lead to cost savings and, in some cases, a tenfold improvement to the core network itself.

We know this year won’t be the easiest and that 2023 will demand balance from us all. That’s why we’re committed to continuing to invest in our own networks despite the economic headwinds. Over the next five years, we’re investing £10 billion in our fixed and mobile networks to bring organisations like yours next-generation connectivity.

By working together to find new ways to get the most out of existing tech and ensure every pound invested is being used to create a better standard of care for patients, everyone in the UK stands to benefit.

Finding the right balance in 2023 for your organisation starts with a conversation. Get in touch today to talk to one of the team or visit our website to learn more.

Mark Burton

Mark Burton, Health & Social Care Lead, Virgin Media O2 Business