It’s customary for reports on the future of the NHS to start from a position of pessimism. They start by setting out a familiar list of blood-curdling challenges - long-term sickness, an older population, straitened public finances - and try to plot a course out.
Our report takes a different, and more optimistic, perspective. It presents a vision of a successful and thriving health system in 2030, and asks what we might do to get us there.
The vision we described is one which takes advantage of the most promising emerging technologies and social innovations of today and uses them to provide far better, more affordable care. The report draws directly on Nesta’s own practical health work and research, and that of our partners.
At its most basic, it is a vision of an NHS transformed by the power of people, and the power of knowledge.
We believe there are two powerful and under-exploited sources of innovation that have the potential to make care better and, under the right circumstances, cheaper. These are the rapidly accelerating pace of digital technology, and the power of social innovation, of people coming together to help one another.
Of course, information and citizen action have always had a role to play in healthcare, albeit a supporting one. At least two transformational health movements – hospices and first aid – were social innovations then co-opted by official health systems. And on the information side, data on the geography of a cholera outbreak in 1854 led to one of the first local authority public health interventions.
But the immense and growing power of digital technology and the renaissance of health as a social movement suggest that both these trends have much more to offer.
One unmistakable lesson that has emerged from Nesta’s work in healthcare and beyond is that digital technology and people-power are most powerful when they are combined. Not long ago, for example, we were looking for cutting-edge ways of using digital health data to improve treatment, and we found that the best place to look was among empowered patient organisations.
There will of course be many other profound changes that affect the future of the health and care system. And the pace and direction of change in technology and attitudes to health are hard to forecast. Our report isn’t an attempt at prediction (predictions are always wrong), but an attempt to play out early signals of technical and social changes that we can see coming into focus, and to use this to identify big decisions that need to be taken now.
Nesta is actively involved in this agenda through our funding programmes, our research and our partnerships. We have just launched Health Lab to build on our work to create a people powered health system - health that is for people, by people and with people. This means providing healthcare for people when they need it, enabling people to manage their health in everyday life, and connecting people into networks that help support one another.
We think the best way to achieve a people powered health system is by harnessing the power of people and knowledge. NHS in 2030 sets out a future in which these forces are combined and scaled to create a health system that continually learns and mobilises people to help create health for all.