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Highland Marketing looks ahead to 2019

The turmoil in UK politics makes it hard to look too far ahead, but it is long-term trends that will shape the NHS and health tech through 2019, and well thought communications that will ensure success for vendors, say Lyn Whitfield and Mark Venables.

Lyn Whitfield, director of content strategy, Highland Marketing: This July, the government found a “birthday present” for the NHS of “an extra £20 billion a year by 2023-4”; but we still don’t have crucial details, such as how inflation or pay increases will be handled, or how the money will be distributed.

The long-term plan that is supposed to determine future priorities has not been published; and there is no sign of the social care green paper. Which is hardly surprising when ongoing turmoil over Brexit makes it difficult to predict who will be in Number 10, the Treasury, or Richmond House next week.

A no-deal or hard-Brexit would have a terrible impact on the NHS. But if we assume public health information flows, staffing, medical supplies, and research relationships are maintained, it is long-term trends not short-term politics that will shape the health and care system in 2019.

The demand pressures caused by an ageing population and rising inequality are not going to let up. The £20 billion won’t go far toward addressing them, when the acute sector is £1 billion in deficit and the Treasury seems determined to get hospitals hitting key targets again.

Traditionally, the NHS’ response to a need for change when the fundamentals are against it has been a reorganisation, and the outline of one is becoming clear. NHS England, NHS Improvement and Public Health England have effectively announced a new regional structure.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has insisted that the push for accountable care organisations (currently integrated care services) is “the only game in town.” And his deputy, Matthew Swindells, has said one clinical commissioning group per ICS might be plenty.

New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has shown no interest in disrupting this direction of travel; which is anyway in line with reforms being pursued by health systems worldwide. So, a change in personnel or government is unlikely to derail it (although the acronyms might change again). On the tech front, this should create space for the further development of regional care records and predictive analytics.

The big question is whether it will finally force change in England’s hospital-focused model of care; and if it does, how the tech component of that will be addressed. Digital laggard trusts have a huge job of work to do, while leaders are starting to face legacy issues.

Growing agreement over what Hancock calls “interoperable data standards” will help to link-up existing systems, but with the global exemplar programme pushing single-supplier EPRs and the secretary of state pushing public-cloud located, internet-first applications, someone will need to broker an agreement about what the future looks like. And then find a way to deliver it.

Now, why does that sound familiar?

Mark Venables, CEO, Highland Marketing: It’s tempting to say that in 2019, winter will be cold, spring will be wet, summer will be very hot, and autumn will start getting cold again. Because it’s hard to see how 2019 will differ significantly from 2018.

The challenges facing the NHS and social care remain the same, and it sometimes feels as if the people working in them are so bogged down in the day to day that they don’t have the time to scope out, never mind adopt, the transformational change that everybody can see is needed.

Health tech companies still need to communicate their messages, though, so the right stakeholders hear them as often as possible and are ready to act on them when they have the headspace and resources. Selling to the NHS is a long-haul, and the key to success is to have a drip-feed of the right marketing, PR and sales content.

If it’s hard to see much change in the NHS and social care, there are changes on the technology front that are likely to have an impact in 2019. The idea that every hospital should have its own IT department, running its own server room, and sorting out its own network and devices is being questioned.

The idea that everything is just going to shift to the public cloud is unrealistic. But I would expect to see the wider uptake of hybrid models in 2019, with more major suppliers hosting their own systems, and more applications becoming cloud based.

That should free up chief information officers to focus on strategy and free up people in their departments to focus on more interesting things. Again, the role of PR and marketing in all this is to make sure companies have their messages in front of key influencers, and to show them the art of the possible, and how that will support them.

That’s particularly important because the health tech market is such a crowded space. It is a paradox that while health and care is a hard and cash strapped environment, there are a lot of companies looking to sell into it. In 2019, as in other years, it is companies that put the effort into understanding the market and shaping its thinking that will stand out.    

Highland Marketing is an integrated communications, PR and marketing consultancy with an unrivalled reputation for supporting UK and international health tech companies, built over 17 years. Get in touch on: