A fortnight ago I was honoured to be asked to host a health conference in Preston called ‘Clinical Innovation & Transformation in Lancashire and South Cumbria’.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the outgoing NHS England National Medical Director, was the headline speaker and he didn’t disappoint.

Speaking without notes he spoke brilliantly for 20 minutes with real passion about the importance of innovation and technology in the healthcare sector.

It was an inspirational speech and the 100+ clinicians in the room must have been as impressed as I was.

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Sir Bruce had been invited by Dr Amanda Doyle OBE, who is the Chief Clinical Officer of Blackpool CCG and the STP Lead for the Lancashire and South Cumbria footprint.

Dr Doyle still works as a GP one day a week and recognises the importance of the primary and secondary health sectors working together and the importance of tech in improving patient care, especially in an aging population.

Chris Maguire 

The conference heard from several doctors and what struck me was how technology is already being deployed but how much more needs to happen.

Dr Mark Denver is a GP at Bay Medical Group in Lancaster and used to be a doctor and a major in the army in some of the remotest parts of the world.He’s involved in the Testbed initiative supported by NHS England and is focussed on working with patients with heart failure and COPD.

The average age of patients is in their 70s so the project has supplied them with Bluetooth-enabled electronic tablets to monitor things like oxygen levels, weight; pulse; and blood pressure etc.

The tablets aren’t just about monitoring vital statistics because regular educational videos are sent to patients which is empowering them to help manage their own condition. This has helped lead to a significant decrease in GP and hospital appointments.

Dr George Dingle works at Garstang Medical Practice and has been the clinical lead in planned care for Morecambe Bay CCG since 2011. He says the key is breaking down barriers and hospital consultants and getting them to work closer together.

With this in mind he’s built a software solution called ‘Advice & Guidance’ which offers GPs the chance to have an electronic ‘conversation’ with a hospital consultant about a patient where they have a query. 

Over 300 GPs have used the system and there have been 4,548 new conversations in the last financial year.  The main reason for this is patient care but the other benefit is less hospital referrals.The problem that was raised time and time again is that the NHS system isn’t responsive to change.

Dr Nick Wood and Dr Alistair Craig 

Alistair Craig, head of school - Radiology at Heath Education North West, and Dr Nick Wood, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist and Chief Clinical Information Officer, Women’s Health Directorate, both spoke about their frustration of how patient information isn’t shared.

The lack of an integrated IT system is a big problem. It can’t be right that a patient can go into Barrow for a scan but the surgeon in Blackpool who is performing the operation can’t manipulate the image so it has to be put on a disc and driven to them.

It can’t be right that a patient can have a CT scan in Blackpool but the surgeon who’s operating on them in Preston doesn’t automatically see the result. That’s the reality.

One surgeon I spoke to last year told me that if tech allowed him to put his patient records on a par with his Spotify collection it would be a step forward. That can’t be right.

If the technology matches the caring and professionalism of the staff at the conference then we’re in good hands but everybody needs to buy into the opportunity that technology presents.