As temperatures drop, colds, flus and viruses become particularly prevalent. And while such illnesses may be only an inconvenience for someone in good health, they are much more serious for the elderly or people with existing health concerns.
The result is many more people calling on the emergency services and entering NHS hospitals. Meanwhile the NHS is working with increasingly tight budgets. Hence the winter crisis.
To illustrate the extent of the issue, in late January 2018 figures NHS England reported that 89,161 patients had waited between 30 and 60 minutes in the back of an ambulance this winter, and 26,845 had waited for more than an hour. Further reports from the Guardian suggest NHS hospitals are running low on life-saving equipment such as ventilators, pumps to administer drugs and oxygen cylinders.
But what can be done to prevent this perennial winter crisis? The most obvious solution – and the one that is most often touted – is to significantly increase NHS funding to help trusts acquire the resources to meet peaks in demand. However, with the Government demonstrating a reluctance to do so, it seems increasingly clear that we must instead look to the private sector.
Fortunately, a vast number of health technology businesses have launched in the UK in recent years. These include apps, online platforms, digital tools, wearable tech and medical devices, all of which can help people gain better control over and insight into their own health. From startups that enable you to submit blood samples that are analysed to show a risk profile of different conditions, through to apps for monitoring health and fitness data, these innovations have a vital role to play in lessening consumers’ reliance on the public healthcare system.
Cheap, easily accessible and delivering efficiency gains, these digital solutions are helping people lead healthier leaves. And, as prevention is better than cure, understanding one’s own physical condition and taking responsibility to monitor it is both necessary and possible.
For those who need regular domiciliary care for chronic conditions, there are online platforms. Hitherto it has been a difficult and draining task to find, book and co-ordinate different healthcare services. But now there are tools that make the task far easier – in the same way we now use technology to order takeaways, manage finances, buy clothes and even find life partners.
So whether it’s achieving better preventive care, sourcing private providers for a specific long-term issue or simply monitoring physical and mental condition, healthtech can help improve people’s wellbeing – and keep a portion of the public out of NHS hospitals.