Futureproofing our NHS: Innovations and their benefits | Haider Ali Sheikh

Haider Ali Sheikh

A student-led health commission was tasked with coming up with creative ideas for how the health service can meet the needs and expectations of those who will use it in the future. Medical student, Haider Ali Sheikh summarises the commission’s innovative recommendations.

My name is Haider Ali Sheikh, a medical student from King’s College London, and I was invited to participate in a student-led health commission, funded by NHS England.

The commission was held at the Policy Institute at King’s College London, and had several policy labs and an unconference, with a simple but rather challenging objective – futureproofing our NHS. After completing comprehensive research, we would like to present the main recommendations of the commission.

Prior to embarking on our venture, we were adamant that we needed to be dynamic in our approach - after all, you have to be innovative to find solutions that can't otherwise be found. We wanted to engage with future users of the service, and encourage radical and creative sparks to tackle health problems.

We wanted to envisage the NHS in 15 years’ time: the workforce, funding, opportunities and the changing demographics. Our main recommendations focused on three main themes: shared health, workforce and ‘normovation’.

We believe we have to empower the public to access targeted and tailored resources that suit them better – a ‘fits like a glove’ approach. This will become pivotal for them to lead a healthier lifestyle, which we can accommodate through health networks and generating health capital.

We strongly felt that the direction of healthcare at current suits the ‘grass-root’ type approaches, where we are able to have a multi-layered support system consisting of a health champion and health coaches.

This will enable us to bring forth healthier lifestyles to everyday locations and to encourage consistent health promotions beyond clinical settings. Being able to create an integrated ‘shared health’ digital platform to connect social network communities will enable the next generation to live healthier lifestyles – easing the financial and work constraints.

We want to remodel workforce in ways that give freedom to staff for their work-life balance - introducing flexible, adaptable rotas and the ability to change careers. Staff empowerment leads to increased autonomy at work and reduces work-related pressures.

The workforce needs restructuring to better meet the challenges of increasing demand, while maintaining patient safety. We propose that by permitting re-specialisation and offering greater flexibility, we can better give rota managers the power to customise and incentivise rotas according to local demand. Subsequently, there will be better support for patients and staff in using services efficiently and communicating their needs and preferences.

Lastly, our recommendations include ‘normovation’: the idea that innovation is implemented in everyday practice, allowing staff and patients the freedom to apply ideas in order to bring about change.

This is important because we need to devise clear and reachable normovation pathways for everyone in NHS. This would be strongly influenced by the responsible trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to issue the time and physical spaces required, along with their representative ‘champions of normovation’.

My vision for the NHS in the future is it focusing on its importance to our society – its role for when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. The NHS is too important. Even if we were to look past its deep roots in British society, the public support for NHS principles is alone enough to show its significance.

However, it would be fair to state that the generation that gifted us the NHS, despite how novel and fantastic their ideas were for their time, would have had significantly different expectations to their counterparts of today. This is a generational drift – the needs and necessities of ‘tomorrow’ are different to the ones of ‘yesterday’.

Thus, I envision the NHS to be, albeit not perfect, a well-maintained service that in consistent in delivering its values. We have to be mindful of the constant change to our demographics and make use of the expertise available, while subsequently formulating the NHS accordingly. Let’s go back to the basics – despite plugging the holes currently, let’s also focus and plan on long-term plans to deter possibly bigger challenges to come.

The rapid advancement of technology in our world is an important tool in our arsenal. We can utilise this in every aspect of the NHS, thus improving efficiency: rotas, scheduling, record keeping and/or admin. This is even more significant for patient empowerment, where we can help create a healthier public and healthcare by introducing apps or information feeds that are targeted for specific needs – thus yield the optimum results and increased sense of shared ownership of healthcare. I feel there is an increased need for the NHS to be flexible and exude freedom; we want the workforce to be enamoured and feel respected for what they do and promise them progression and leadership so that not only does their quality of service improve, but so does their length of service.

I have faith that the student-led health commission has made inroads to generate support for the future generation of NHS service users and workforce, thus we can deliver solutions which could futureproof today’s NHS – tomorrow.

Haider Ali Sheikh is a medical student at King’s College London, and was a member of the student-led health commission into futureproofing the NHS. Please visit the King’s College London website for the full report: Futureproofing our NHS: A generational shift – views from a student-led health commission

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