Searching for innovation: the 2012 Health Policy Summit

Blog post

Published: 28/02/2012

The Nuffield Trust’s fourth Health Policy Summit opens on Wednesday, bringing together senior health leaders, clinicians, policy-makers and academics. The timing is not auspicious.

The intense political wrangling over the Health and Social Care Bill has spilled out beyond Westminster and is dividing professionals in the NHS. Even at this late stage the Bill’s passage through Parliament is uncertain.

Whatever you might think of the Government’s proposals, the financial challenge that predated them is now a reality for the NHS. It is also rapidly becoming apparent to the public. The most urgent question now is not so much whether money can be saved, but whether money can be saved without damaging patient care.

The search for innovations that can support the delivery of more efficient, higher quality care is a major theme at this year’s Summit, and it is a search with wide horizons.

Delegates (and others via live stream) will hear from Dr Devy Shetty, Chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya, the heart hospital in Bangalore, India, which has revolutionised the delivery of cardiac surgery, providing access to thousands of people with no health insurance.

Dr Shetty and his team perform heart surgery in high volumes at a fraction of the cost of richer health systems, using novel approaches to funding, technology and workforce that hold important – albeit challenging – lessons for the NHS.

There is innovation from North America, where policy-makers are grappling to contain costs and meet the needs of older patients. There will be an update from the US on Accountable Care Organisations from Dr Mike Zezza of the Commonwealth Fund and from Canada, news of an ‘elder friendly’ integrated care initiative that is being pioneered, unusually, from an acute hospital by geriatrician Dr Samir Sinha (watch out for a guest blog from Dr Sinha later this week).

There is also no shortage of inspiration from the NHS itself. The Summit will hear about new ideas for efficient and integrated services being pioneered by Trusts and commissioners across England. Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA and another forthcoming guest blogger, will be giving his thoughts on how to enable innovation in health and social care.

But for every success story there are also many health economies facing real challenges.

Overcoming these will depend on commissioners with high quality data and expertise to manage financial risk: the Summit will discuss the latest developments on financial risk, including experience from the Netherlands.

Risk management will depend on high quality data: Tim Kelsey, senior advisor on data for the Cabinet Office, will be making the case for using more and better health data to drive transparency, quality and efficiency.

Opinion remains bitterly divided about whether the Bill enables or ruins the chances of NHS clinicians and managers to meet the challenges ahead of them.

By this stage, few delegates will expect Andrew Lansley’s speech to the Summit, which will also be streamed live, to change any minds. But, if nothing else, it will be an absorbing debate at such a politically sensitive time.

This blog is also available to read on The Guardian website.

Suggested citation

Thorlby R (2012) ‘Searching for innovation: the 2012 Health Policy Summit’. Nuffield Trust comment, 28 February 2012.