Bevan’s NHS is no longer fit for purpose in the age of bio-data

We live in a world which has traditionally taken a one-size fits-all approach to health. In the UK nearly everyone uses one health service, we consume the same medicines, eat the same food and do the similar exercise routines. More importantly, we know very little about how these interventions or lifestyle choices impact our bodies. That is until we get sick, need to have tests done, or are told to take more medicine.

This is the status quo. The NHS envisioned by Aneurin Bevan is, arguably, no longer fit for purpose. In order to deliver sick and serious care that’s free at the point of need, we need health solutions that empower people to have agency over their health. The old model of information asymmetry is changing whether we like it or not. Unchecked, people are arming themselves with information. It’s surely better, therefore, that those at the forefront of the movement seek to ensure the information is sound and there’s transparency about any existing limitations.

We are witnessing a transformational shift in how individuals access and use data in every aspect of their lives, with technology fuelling the growth of personalised and on-demand services. We’re voraciously learning and sharing about health and wellbeing across online / social communities. The quality of ‘learning’ isn’t guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that it will continue to happen regardless.

In the near future we will look back on this homogenised approach to health, and the limited understanding of what is happening inside our bodies, and we will be shocked at our ignorance.

Armed with convenient, affordable tools that provide frictionless access to bio-data and with innovative, personalised services that use the information intelligently, we will take a proactive role in not only understanding our bodies but understanding what actions prevent illness and optimise wellbeing.

The trends are self evident. Consumers are voting with their wallets and are finding solutions that enable them to live the lives they want to live. On their terms.

I’d like you to imagine a scenario. One day you wake up, at a time identified by your sleep tracker, and roll out of bed. You take your bespoke daily vitamin dosage, which has been prescribed based on your needs identified through a blood-test you did at home. You might currently be taking medication, which instead of being off the shelf, has been developed based on your genetic makeup and was prescribed through a video call with your GP. Again, from the comfort of your own home.

You might already be wearing a health tracker, or you might simply pick up your smartphone and head to the gym where you’ll do a workout that is designed around your body type and personal health goals. Then you’re able to refuel with a meal that has the right blend of macronutrients for your body and metabolic rate, which will adapt and change over time (…or you might just get a burger, because you’re still human).

This isn’t a future we can expect to see in five years time; this is happening today, even if it isn’t quite yet the norm. Because of course, for many people, the concept of analysing their own bio-data may seem to be a niche interest but it’s an area which is growing quickly and already hitting the mass-market. The solutions today may not be perfect – as with all breakthrough concepts, most companies in this space are still feeling their way to sustainable solutions.

It’s not all rosy though. The consequences of getting health ‘wrong’ are profound. And it’s entirely appropriate that innovators, incumbents, researchers and regulators come together to ensure that as power moves into consumers hands, it’s managed responsibly.

Analysts have estimated that the global segment for health self-monitoring will grow from from $20.7 billion in 2017 to $71.9 billion by 2022. Crucially, these tools and products are being developed not to add more complexity into our lives, but to empower people to live a healthier, less interrupted life and and they have untold benefits for people managing long-term health conditions.

But how has this movement gathered pace and where do we go from here? We see three factors at play.

Firstly, there has been an explosion in awareness and education around health and wellbeing. This is a trend that was undoubtedly led by the bio-hacking community – a niche but influential group leading the quantified self movement and arguably best illustrated by poster boy Tim Ferriss who boasts over 100m downloads of his weekly podcast. This awareness can be seen in our renewed focus on mental wellbeing, fitness and the rising popularity of diets which limit environmental impact, such as veganism. Crucially, this thirst for knowledge and increased awareness of what we consume and how we move has been driven by our second factor, technology.

It is an axiom to say that technology has transformed our lives beyond recognition but when it comes to our personal health and wellbeing, we are yet to see how great that impact could be. Products such as wearable trackers, sleep tracking apps or bluetooth scales give us access to more knowledge about our bodies than ever before. For a long time, we were deliberately not listening to our bodies and the only way for us to previously access our bio-data used to be through a doctor but that’s no longer the case.  Technology has given us access to more data than ever and has helped us streamline and simplify our lives beyond recognition.

Finally, we come to the challenge this transformation could help us to answer – the pressing need to support a crippled health service. There is unfortunately a growing distrust in the current system to meet consumer demand, not only in the most basic of services but for information and streamlined services. That is why we’re seeing increasing numbers of people taking control of their own data and choosing to manage their own health.

Of course, we believe the true opportunity comes when innovations like those we’ve discussed and existing health services come together. The opportunity here is for them to not only deliver a more personalised, holistic and ultimately preventative healthcare system but one that is future-proofed and efficient as well.

This growth in health-tech and the health-at-home market is a decade long movement, not an overnight transformation but it is gaining pace. There are hurdles to overcome – largely because we’re rewriting the rule book on a previously very personal area that requires innovators to grapple with the need for marked behaviour change. The tracking, sharing and analysis of bio-data comes with big questions around trust, privacy and responsible use of this information and we believe the most progressive companies at the forefront of this movement recognise the significance of this responsibility.

Hamish Grierson is CEO and Co-Founder of Thriva, the preventative health-service offering finger-prick blood tests you can do at home.

  • sfin

    The NHS was always a ghastly, socialist, one size fits all, no choice construct. I have always been baffled by the British attachment to it, when it produces such low standard outcomes and allows, by principle, the government to dictate, through taxation or otherwise, people’s lifestyle choices.

    All state welfare systems, especially one as giant and all encompassing as this one, also require generation on generation population growth in order to sustain them. On a finite landmass, as part of a finite continent, on a finite planet, this was never going to be sustainable.

    David Willetts has recently called for more taxation to fund future welfare (yes, he’s a Tory!) without mentioning that the next two generation’s welfare bills have already been spent under the giant Ponzi scheme of which the NHS is a large part.

    Madoff went to prison for what our politicians practise with impunity.

  • Zalacain

    The NHS is just another excuse for politicians of all parties to raise taxes.

  • justinae

    I listened the other day to a discussion between a doctor who said that droves of medics were leaving the NHS because of Brexit and a media presenter quoting the latest NHS figures that completely belied this. This seems to suggest that doctors do not relate to the service as a whole and prefer their own fiefdoms.
    Because the techniques to deliver quick and accurate self- diagnoses are continually being invented and improved surely the key to taking full advantage of this is to have a much larger number of doctors engaged in treatments rather than just referrals?

  • Bill Ellson

    “In the UK nearly everyone uses one health service”

    Codswallop. There is not, nor has there ever been one UK healh service. In 1948 one NHS was established for England and Wales under the National Health Service Act 1946 and another separate NHS in Scotland under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1947. Northern Ireland’s Unionist government made its own Health & Social Care arrangements putting legislation through the Stormont parliament in early 1948.

    The NHS was not “envisioned by Aneurin Bevan”. The concept of a National Health Service had been around a long time, but gained little political traction until William Beveridge made it an ‘assumption’ to suppport his proposals on Social Insurance in 1942. Government set to work and in March 1944 Minister of Health Conservative Henry Willink published his white paper that formed the basis of the 1946 & 1947 Acts.

  • disqus_qE254HgVCU

    Advertorial for a unicorn.

  • Essell

    Several years ago there was much talk of whole body scans being introduced on a regular basis for all, which would pick up any problems. It remains a pipe dream. How could our NHS ever cope with this? It is not just the costs of such scans, but the vast army of specialists needed to tackle all the health issues detected.

    The NHS was never intended to keep the whole population in first class condition. It was intended to manage sickness as and when it arose, with some emphasis on preventative measures such as vaccines. Even now, treatment for such such common disabilities as cataracts and arthritic hips are being rationed.

    I do think that private medicine will continue to innovate. The NHS may eventually pick up on cost effective measures from the private sector.