By Susan Venables

The past year has been marked by the unraveling of grand plans. It’s also seen a real buzz emerge in the UK’s healthcare IT sector. And as far as patients are concerned, 2011 might be remembered as the tipping point, when politicians put their weight behind viable projects to use technology and data in the transformation of care.

Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the collapse of much of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). I remember its birth, when it looked fresh and full of promise. Over the years it has been painful to watch the project being undermined by so many disasters. The final disintegration reminded me of one of those slow motion movies of a tower block being demolished. An edifice that had looked so huge simply crumpled back in on itself, leaving a heap of rubble and, in this case, recriminations. Indeed, the rush to blame the vendors involved, has been a worry. We simply cannot afford a situation to emerge where healthcare IT suppliers are viewed with suspicion.

A similar sense of instability afflicts Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill. We were presented with a vision of a simpler, more effective NHS in which the business-like and patient-focused GPs commissioned services on behalf of patients. An indication of how badly awry this has gone is that a whole army of GPs has signed an e-petition to scrap the Bill. In fact, the shrieks of anger and dissent have come from just about every part of the NHS and far beyond. The government’s response has been to make amendments on the hoof. As a result the original vision may be lost, and we risk getting another unwieldy commissioning system which the next government will overturn.

NPfIT and the Health Bill underline the dangers of imposing big visions on the NHS. And what has been so promising about 2011 is that all the smaller innovative IT firms that had been marginalised by NPfIT have begun to re-emerge. There is so much creativity and ability out there, and a pragmatic approach in which providers choose suppliers to suit their needs, will help it flourish. This is excellent for the economy as we have so many companies which, after proving themselves in the UK, have the potential to make a big impact on the world market.

Likewise, it’s been great to see the government announce its plan to make anonymised patient data readily available to the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. Once again, it’s an area where the public and private sectors can collaborate to bring benefits for all.

Perhaps the highlight of the year was the PM’s announcement that three million patients will benefit from telehealth and telecare services. This would be a huge vindication of modern technology and its ability to bring a closer and more effective relationship between patients and care teams. The worry is that it might go the way of other grand plans. But the new willingness of the Department of Health to co-operate with industry, and representative bodies like Intellect, will hopefully mean it is pushed forward in a pragmatic and sensible fashion. If this happens then 2012 could be a time when the UK healthcare IT sector gains confidence and technology starts to be recognised as central to the delivery of top quality care.

Merry Christmas!

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Susan Venables

Susan Venables

Founder and Client Services Director
Susan takes a fresh approach to marketing and public relations. She established Highland Marketing in 2002 after a long career working with well-known agencies and clients ranging from SMEs to multi-nationals. During the past 20 years she has helped many companies within the technology and healthcare IT sectors to raise brand awareness and reach new potential customers. Susan is respected by clients, getting them and their services noticed when and where it matters, and by the media where she has many long-standing contacts.

“Effective marketing and communications demands a lot of passion, commitment and experience, and that's exactly what we provide for clients. Right from the start I match them with a team of people who each have at least ten years' experience, and who often know what it's like to run their own business. That mixture of maturity and determination is very potent. Clients really notice the difference, especially those who have previously worked with agencies that send in their top people to win an account then hand the actual work to inexperienced junior staff.”
A little about Susan:
  • Champion athlete - During her first year at Durham University she thought she would have a go at rowing. By the third year she was winning national competitions and was later part of the GB women's lightweight rowing squad.
  • Dog lover - Susan developed a love of dogs when she was a little girl in the Warwickshire market town of Southam when the family's pet used to protect her pram. These days she has a black Labrador, a golden retriever and a young Samoyed to exercise.
  • No second best - As a child she always had a rebellious streak combined with a determination to excel, especially at sports like hockey, athletics and netball. Those traits carried over into adult life where she found her niche establishing and building her own business rather than following a corporate career path.

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