2023 was a constant whirlwind of healthcare news, including public healthcare (NHS), private healthcare, and HealthTech.
It seemed that the NHS was constantly on the news for one reason or another, none of which appeared to be positive, followed closely by the expansion of the private healthcare market, both trying to create and adapt to a new digital age of healthcare.
In this article, we’ll delve into, in our view, the leading news and changes that happened within the UK Healthcare Sector in 2023.
The Public Sector
The ICS Efficiency Demand
In May 2023, ICSs across the country were told they would have to make an average efficiency saving of almost 6% to meet their financial requirements. Pre-Covid, the average efficiency savings demanded was around 4%, but the systems consistently failed to achieve this level. In 2023, the demand again increased to 5% for 2022-2023, so the further increased demand of 6% was probably expected, yet it was the highest demand they’d been given since before the pandemic.
According to Cambridge and Peterborough ICS, the national efficiency target for 2023-2024 is 5.8%, equalling approximately £6 billion of the total £102 billion for all ICSs. A spokesperson for NHS England said: “We recognise that systems have a significant efficiency challenge for 23/24, as we ask them to remove the additional capacity put in place to respond to the pandemic and recover productivity”.
The Record-Breaking Waiting List
Of course, we must mention THIS record, one that we’re sure the NHS don’t want to keep. At the end of July 2023, there were 7,679,851 people on the waiting list for NHS treatment, and by the 14th of September 2023, this number had increased to a record-breaking high of over 7.7 million!
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said, “It’s extremely concerning to see the waiting list hit another record high amid escalating pressure on the NHS, including A&Es facing their busiest summer since 2019.” She added, “With more strikes on the horizon, including coordinated action between junior doctors and consultants for the first time, even greater disruption looms.”
With this in mind, can we expect to see an increase or decrease in this astounding number of people on the waitlist in 2024?
The Promise of Reduced Wait Times
With the NHS, it’s all about waiting from waitlists to wait times.
The government has promised time and time again to cut NHS wait times, meaning that people can get the care they need more quickly. To support delivery, in 2023, the government made up to £14.1 billion available for health and social care over the next two years, on top of record funding to improve elective, urgent, emergency, and primary care performance.
Most believe wait times should be at the forefront for the NHS for 2024, and we couldn’t agree more; as we always say, when it comes to health, time matters and in this case, it REALLY matters! We found that extended wait times by just four weeks, on average, increased the chance of death by 10%.
We should revisit the point above: with more strikes looming over us, will wait times also be able to decrease in 2024, or will they flatline (no pun intended)?
The Never-been-met NHS Targets
In 2023, there was a lot of news about the NHS targets that have never been met, or at least not for several years, which again supports the fact that the NHS has been severely struggling for quite some time.
It was announced that most key targets had yet to be met for the last seven years, along with records going back 20 years showing that Northan Ireland and Wales have NEVER met the 4-hour A&E target.
Transgressing slightly, the pandemic actually had a positive outcome for NHS Scotland as they were able to meet this target, but that was during the lockdown in 2020 when the number of visits to A&E plummeted (so does it even count?).
Kier Starmer has used the NHS’s lack of success in hitting targets as a prominent promotion for his campaign to be Prime Minister. He said it was “shocking” that so many children, more than 180,000, were waiting longer than 18 weeks and pledged that no child would wait longer than the target time of 18 weeks for hospital treatment if he were elected Prime Minister.
With the NHS in its current state, it begs the question: are all of these targets even achievable with the need for more staff and resources? We’re keeping our fingers crossed that 2024 will be the year these targets are finally hit, no matter the cost!
The Private Sector
The Surge in Private Healthcare Spending
In 2022, a remarkable surge in individuals dissatisfied with extended NHS waiting lists led to a record number opting for private healthcare, with expenditures reaching up to £3,200 for cataract removal and £15,075 for a new hip.
Throughout the United Kingdom, 272,000 people independently funded operations or diagnostic procedures at private hospitals last year—a notable increase from the previous year’s 262,000 and significantly surpassing the 199,000 in 2019 before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Private hospitals marked a significant achievement in 2022, treating a record-breaking 820,000 inpatients and day case patients. Among these, 547,000 individuals utilised private medical insurance—a figure not seen since 2019.
Ian Gargan, Chief Executive of PHIN, pointed to prolonged waiting times in the NHS as a major driving factor. The top five procedures included cataract surgery (76,000), chemotherapy (66,000), upper gastrointestinal diagnostic tests (38,000), colonoscopy for bowel cancer screening (31,000), and new hip replacements (30,000). (excluding NHS patients receiving private hospital care funded by the health service)
The Top Private Healthcare Insurers of 2023:
At the end of 2023, the spotlight shone on the best private healthcare insurers genuinely excelling in the industry. Topping the charts is Aviva, earning a stellar score of 9.5/10. In November 2023, their General Insurance business witnessed an impressive surge, marking a remarkable 13% rise and reaching an astonishing £8 billion. Not far behind is Bupa, securing a commendable score of 9.3/10. By the midway point of 2023, Bupa showcased robust financial performance with a noteworthy revenue growth of 10%. Another standout performer is Vitality Health, earning a solid score of 9.1/10. Their impact is evident as they surpassed a milestone, reaching a staggering 1.7 million, underscoring their widespread influence in the realm of private healthcare. These industry leaders set the bar high, exemplifying excellence and innovation in delivering top-notch healthcare solutions to their clients—figures cited from iaminsured.co.uk.
Google & Deep Mind’s Exciting AI Advancements
In a transformative step towards the future of healthcare, Google Research and DeepMind collaborated in 2023 to develop an innovative AI medical chatbot, marking a significant stride in the realm of digital health. Launched in January, this advanced chatbot, powered by a robust language model, draws insights from diverse datasets covering professional medical exams, research, and consumer queries, generating safe and helpful answers.
From our perspective, this innovation is a crucial step in the right direction for the industry. It emphasises the pivotal role of digital advancements in shaping the future of patient care. The AI medical chatbot exemplifies the positive impact that technology can have on healthcare, aligning seamlessly with our commitment to harnessing the power of digital solutions for the continual improvement of health services. It serves as a testament to the transformative potential that cutting-edge technology brings to the forefront of modern healthcare, and we’re excited to be sharing our advancements in the AI sector at the end of this article!
The Rise and Fall of Babylon
We couldn’t write this article without mentioning the word on everyone’s lips: Babylon. The downfall of Babylon Health in 2023, culminating in the announcement of its intention to sell its UK business and the potential administration, highlights the challenges technology companies face in the ever-evolving healthcare landscape. Despite Babylon’s initial promise and innovations, the $34.5 million attempt to restructure and return to private ownership proved unsuccessful. The subsequent exploration of strategic alternatives, including the potential sale of the UK business, reflects the complexities of navigating the healthcare industry, one we all know too well.
The failure of Babylon underlines the critical need for continuous technological advancements to create a sustainable and efficient environment for healthcare providers and patients. In an era where digital solutions are integral to healthcare delivery, Babylon’s struggles indicate that simple innovation is insufficient and that more planning and structure are needed.
An Innovative Health Tech Collaboration
On a more positive note for our 2023 round-up, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) has entered a groundbreaking partnership with Roche UK, focusing on the development of digital tools that are poised to redefine the support and treatment of children and young people facing rare and complex diseases.
In a strategic embrace of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the collaboration aims to amplify the impact of routinely collected data for enhanced patient care not only within GOSH but also on a broader scale. These advanced tools, driven by innovation, hold the promise of expediting the development of revolutionary treatments for rare diseases, streamlining the transition from the lab to the patient. By automating the analysis of anonymised information, such as genomic data, images, and text, these tools pave the way for streamlined clinical workflows, significantly improving decision-making processes.
The overarching objective is to ensure that patients receive the best possible care at each stage of their healthcare journey, focusing on leveraging technology to save time and lives. This collaboration exemplifies the transformative power of health tech, aligning seamlessly with our dedication to advancing innovation and technology to contribute to improving patient care.
In 2023, we experienced a lot of exciting changes and developments, too! Here’s our top 3:
Firstly, we tirelessly researched how we can further optimise the business side of QHERE to add never-seen-before features in the healthcare sector. We began to meticulously develop AI to enhance our notifications and reporting features, which will go live in Q1 2024!
Secondly, we expanded our team, taking on new partnerships and working specifically with driven, motivated individuals who share our vision; this has enabled us to increase our reach, event attendance and networking abilities – all important for a HealthTech business.
In 2023, we were able to attend more events than ever before, which enabled us to gather even more high-quality information about the public and private Healthcare sector, leading us to further develop our booking and workforce management solution!
In summary, 2023 brought both challenges and advancements to the UK healthcare sector. The year showcased the need for innovation, from pressing issues to the rise of private healthcare and transformative HealthTech developments within the NHS.
At QHERE, our commitment to advancing AI, expanding our team, and active participation in events reflects our dedication to contributing to the evolving narrative of healthcare. As we enter 2024, the intersection of innovation, technology, and healthcare promises a future where efficiency, accessibility, and patient care take centre stage.
To find out more about what we do at QHERE and how we can support your business, head to our Contact Us page and request a factsheet: www.qhere.com/contactus