Our healthcare system is something that we can all too easily take for granted, something that will always be there for us. However, the reality is our health resources are facing testing times. As our nation grows older, new challenges and increased pressures continue to strain the services we all rely on.
Here, Cari-Anne Quinn, CEO of Life Sciences Hub Wales, explores how ground-breaking technology and services are easing the strain on Wales’ health services and helping to reduce preventable health issues.
Wales is currently home to more than 800,000 people aged 50+, and with this figure set to rise to over 1m in the next 20 years, increased pressures on our healthcare resources seem inevitable. We’re living longer than ever before, thanks to developments in health technologies and new care pathways, but this success brings new challenges which must be addressed proactively.
Carrying on as we are is simply unsustainable.
We need to rethink our approach to managing healthcare in older generations. This means working collaboratively to promote ‘healthy ageing’ – helping people live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible to reduce their reliance on health services. The adage “prevention is better than cure” has never been truer.
We all know that smoking, sugar, fatty foods and excessive drinking aren’t good for our health, but the fact is that combined, health issues caused by obesity, tobacco and alcohol misuse are costing our NHS over £400m a year. In total, preventable ill-health accounts for half of all GP appointments, 64 per cent of outpatient appointments and 70 per cent of inpatient bed days.
The number of people being diagnosed with familiar diseases and conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease is also on the rise. More than 61,000 people in Wales have type 2 diabetes at a cost of more than £700m to our NHS.
Innovation and collaboration will be key to reducing the prevalence of such conditions. After all, many of these illnesses are preventable – caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices which are resulting in obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The good news is that Wales is home to a growing industry of pioneering companies developing new technologies and practices that tackle such problems head on. Their work is helping to reduce preventable illnesses before they get to the stage of needing intervention or treatment. This will not only help to ease pressures on our healthcare system but is also the best way to ensure we enjoy happier, healthier lives.
As a global leader in integrated diabetes management, Roche Diabetes Care operates in partnership with caregivers and healthcare providers across the globe to support people with diabetes, and those at risk, to optimally manage the complexities of their condition.
Many Welsh people with diabetes will be familiar with the company’s Accu-Chek brand, which includes integrated solutions to monitor glucose levels, deliver insulin and track data, enabling successful therapy. Additionally, 2017 saw the launch of specialist all-round diabetes care app, mySugr, which can be used in combination with monitoring technology to provide support and motivation to patients for better diabetes management.
As well as addressing the root cause of problems, there has been real growth in the development of online platforms to help manage existing conditions and prevent them from deteriorating. Cardiff-based Bond Digital Health, born in the Life Sciences Hub, have created a medical-grade digital platform that is driving the next generation of highly connected diagnostics, and it works with chronic conditions as well as infectious diseases. Companies such as my mhealth and Liva have created apps which provide self-management tools for people living with long-term conditions such as COPD, heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
Through the my mhealth digital platform, patients have access to expert information tailored specifically to them, and advice on how to remain as healthy as possible. They can set reminders for medication, input and monitor targets that have been agreed with their clinician (such as blood pressure readings), and view videos on how to correctly take their medications.
Clinicians can use these platforms to manage their patients on an individual or population basis, send updates to patients and check in between appointments. These innovative software platforms help patients best manage their conditions between clinical appointments, minimising dependence on healthcare services. Life Sciences Hub is supporting organisations like my mhealth with navigating the healthcare landscape in Wales, and Bond Digital Health with the company's overseas business development and export.
The picture is the same across the country. Pioneering research and development between industry and academia is taking place across a number of fields. It is this innovative, collaborative approach to healthcare that will be crucial to ensuring the sustainability of our future NHS.
However, living longer and healthier is not enough, we need to be happier too. The impact of social isolation and loneliness on the health and wellbeing of older people is one area that is often overlooked. This is despite the fact that loneliness in later life has been proven to contribute to a range of issues including mental health problems, increased risk of infection, morbidity, high blood pressure and inactivity.
The importance of direct engagement, physical activity, education, leisure, housing, transport, community facilities and employment, as a means to combat social isolation, is an area that we have explored extensively at Life Sciences Hub Wales. This crucial topic of tackling loneliness in later life while preventing ill health will also come under the microscope at ‘Tomorrow’s Health’ this spring.
Our health, and the future of our healthcare system, is in our hands. By collaboratively exploring how new technologies and mindsets can help us today, we can help ensure a healthier, happier tomorrow and generations to come.
Tomorrow’s Health is a major conference being organised by Life Sciences Hub Wales in Llandudno this March. The two-day event will unite health and social care professionals, businesses and academia to explore how they can work together to develop solutions to front-line issues faced by health and social care, helping us stay healthier for longer.
Life Sciences Hub Wales aims to drive transformational systematic change within the health and care sectors to create a better future for the people of Wales.
We know that health and economic wellbeing go hand-in-hand. Our role is to inspire innovation and collaboration between industry, health and social care, and research organisations to make a positive difference to people and families across the nation.
We are a catalyst for change. We work with NHS Wales to understand issues and identify how innovation can help deliver better care. We support businesses to create health and care solutions.
We create connections. We enable people and organisations to work with us in partnership and create networking and matchmaking opportunities for innovators.
To find out more, visit: lshubwales.com