Over £180m in grants and prizes for healthcare technology SMEs

Innovative eHealth and mHealth solutions from SMEs could win a share of a £180m government grant fund. The Biomedical Catalyst is a key element of the Strategy for Life Sciences launched last year. It will see the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Technology Strategy Board working together to take the best British medical breakthroughs through to commercial success.

The programme, unveiled this week, will support opportunities with the highest scientific and commercial potential, irrespective of medical area. Three categories of awards will be available – feasibility, early stage and late stage. Individual grants to businesses will range from a maximum of £150,000 for feasibility awards to £3 million for early and late stage awards.

In addition EHI reports that the DH has announced two competitions, each worth up to £2m, to develop ideas to raise the number of patients taking their medicines, and to change behaviour and attitudes to cut obesity and alcohol related diseases.

Health minister Lord Howe said: ‘Technology and innovation have an important role to play in helping to address the healthcare challenges facing the NHS. That is why we are investing in new and creative ideas and projects which can make a difference to patients’ lives. Today’s competitions provide an opportunity to develop innovative solutions for some of the biggest health problems of our time.’

The DH created the prize fund in 2009, as part of a package of measures to encourage and spread innovation in the NHS, spearheaded by then-health minister Lord Darzi.

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Home care tablets thrive while telehealth struggles

A project providing tablet computers to 800 NHS staff is giving community care teams extra freedom in North Devon. By contrast a £5m telehealth scheme in Gloucestershire has deployed less than a quarter of its 2,000 devices in 10 months.

EHI covers both stories, saying that access to Samsung Galaxy 7 tablets allows the Devon community care staff to save time and make more visits because they no longer have to return to base as often. This is valuable as they cover a large rural area, and have to record up to 150 pieces of information per patient.

North Devon’s approach to new community data requirements was to work with software companies NDL and Blue Diamond to create its own app. This does not require a mobile signal, as these can be patchy in some areas, and stores data until it can be sent.

However, only 454 NHS Gloucestershire patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic heart failure, chronic heart disease and diabetes have so far been equipped with self-management devices. The programme started last June and was supposed to be rolled out over 12 months.

Spire Health has been making advances on the mobile technology front, introducing Carestream Health’s Vue Motion viewer so clinicians can see patient images on iPads and Android devices. This will give clinicians at the 37-site private hospital network secure, on-demand access to its picture archiving and communications systems.

They will also be able to access images from home via a secure internet connection, and use iPad and Android devices to show images to patients at the bedside or on the way to theatre.

Private care and quality under scrutiny

The UK’s entire £5.5bn private health sector has been referred to the Competition Commission over concerns about cost and quality. The move follows a study by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which suggests that the market is not working.

The decision could have far-reaching implications as more private providers seek to enter the health market following the Lansley reforms. Health insurance experts We Know Money say the OFT is worried that advertised costs of treatment can be misleading. Likewise there were problems for GPs and patients in navigating the market.

OFT chief executive John Fingleton said: ‘The private healthcare sector is likely to be of growing importance so it is essential that the market works well. Yet private patients and their GPs face difficulties selecting private healthcare providers on the basis of quality or value for money, and this may ultimately result in patients paying higher prices, or receiving lower quality care.’

One worry is that competition could be restricted or distorted. The OFT believes it is difficult for new providers to enter the market and increase choice. It has looked at claims that some larger private healthcare providers can impose price rises, or set other conditions, if an insurer proposes to recognise a new entrant on its network.

According to the BBC David Mobbs, chief executive of Nuffield, said: ‘Patients need choice. This can only be achieved if the industry commits itself to providing transparent information about treatment options, quality and associated costs. This investigation offers a golden opportunity to get rid of some of the practices which have beleaguered the industry for years.’

Mr Mobbs added that the investigation should go further, and look at private medical insurers, of which he said two hold a 70% market share.

News in brief

  • New academy launched for NHS leaders: National Health Executive reports on the launch of The NHS Leadership Academy which has been formed to improve patients’ experiences, health outcomes and wellbeing by promoting best practice in leadership.
  • Night discharge row: The Telegraph says 8,000 patients a week are being discharged from hospital in ‘the middle of the night’ – sometimes to free up beds. The BBC says the figures are not clear cut as some are patients under observation who do not need admission, while certain hospitals register deaths as discharges.
  • Patient Information Forum to build case for consumer information: The DH’s Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund have awarded the PiF £175,000 over three years to test and develop innovative approaches to health and wellbeing, reports EHI.
  • Care homes cut hospital admissions: A study linking health and social care records shows that council care home residents have fewer hospital admissions than those having intensive support in their own houses. The Nuffield Trust says care budget cuts could be counterproductive as more people end up in hospital.
  • iSOFT four in court: Former iSOFT directors plotted to create ‘huge discrepancies’ in the company accounts, deceived investors and got rich, a court has been told. EHI says Patrick Cryne, Stephen Graham, Timothy Whiston, and John Whelan each deny conspiracy to make misleading statements, promises or forecasts.
  • CSC NHS agreement delayed until June: In a report in The Guardian CSC says that the planned deal has been pushed back due to NHS changes brought by Health and Social Care Act.
  • Health Boards “could integrate care”: Public Service writes on a report from The King’s Fund which says that Health and wellbeing boards could be the catalyst for delivering integrated care.

Blog

As we move to an outcomes-based approach in healthcare, the quality of patient experience is being recognised as ever-more important as a measure of success. US blogger Dr Robert Rowley believes that technology is essential to making patients feel well-treated. Indeed, online access and smarter use of EHRs could be crucial.

‘There are several elements that influence a patient’s assessment of their experience. One is the ability to access personal health information on-line. Connected patient-facing web portals are a feature of many modern EHRs, which allows (at a minimum) the review of one’s problem lists, medications lists, allergies, immunisations, lab tests and upcoming appointments.

‘Two-way communications across these channels are also an emerging capability, so that patients can contact the practice in a secure way – these queries tend to be in lieu of phone calls (not of actual visits). Usually such communication is about refill requests, interpretation of lab results, and sometimes about health complaints.

‘Most directly, EHRs are now developing ways to send patient satisfaction surveys after each visit. If immediate feedback becomes a routine part of clinical care (after-visit surveys, generally by email), there is the opportunity to improve in real-time. This approach holds the most promise for affecting patient satisfaction than any other to date, and is something we will see built into EHRs in the near future.’

Opinion

In this week’s Guardian healthcare network, Dick Vinegar writes of his despair about the future of telecare following the launch of the whole system demonstrator (WSD).

‘You will remember that a trial, called the whole system demonstrator, covering 6000 long-term patients in Kent, Newham and Cornwall, has been chuntering along for about three years. In June last year, a Kings Fund conference announced relatively upbeat preliminary findings for the WSD. The full report was supposed to be imminent. But autumn and winter came and went, and still the report did not appear. We were told that it was just going through the necessary “peer review” process.’

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