Public Accounts Committee says that the NHS must make better use of machines

October 25, 2011 6:37 PM

Improving technology in healthcare can save lives. The latest machines can catch illnesses earlier and can administer more effective treatments than ever. Julia Manning of 2020 Health wrote on Friday that a heart clinic in Southampton monitors pacemakers remotely so patients don’t have to travel to hospital for check-ups and diabetes patients being warned by a text to their mobile phones if they have abnormal readings of blood pressure and blood sugar levels. This improves and simplifies the lives of patients, while easing the pressure on budgets.

My paper Wasting Lives argued that technology – along with improving lifestyles – can be bigger drivers of healthcare improvement than simply spending more money on existing systems.

So it’s crucial that the procurement of capital equipment in the NHS is cost-effective and the assets are used to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report criticising the approach to hospital equipment usage. Margaret Hodge, the PAC chair, said that the variation in the frequency machines are used across Trusts is ‘unacceptable’.

In 2009, we analysed the usage of five machines – Linacs, MRI scanners, Lithotripters, PET scanners and CT scanners – and found that it varied greatly between Trusts. For those Trusts that were below average use, bringing them up to standard would have meant more scans; over 650,000 more CT scans, for example, which is the same as having 88 additional scanners in the system.

The National Audit Office confirmed these findings in March 2011, in its report on managing capital equipment in the NHS. It found wide variations in utilisation rates of scanning machines. This means that NHS trusts are unable to compare the efficiency of machine usage with other trusts – the report says there is no repository of data to do so.

Our paper was the first to gather these numbers in a meaningful way but it’s important that this data is made available every year so that Trusts can benchmark against each other. They shouldn’t be afraid to copy the good ideas of other Trusts. Why, for example, don’t they offer scans outside of working hours, even past midnight? Perhaps they could even incentivise having scans out of hours by offering two options – a normal scan date and an earlier one for using the machine when it's in less demand?

I spoke at the National Biomedical and Clinical Engineering Conference a couple of weeks ago and it was just these types of topics that were discussed. Can Trusts deliver quality healthcare and save money? I argued that they absolutely can – by sweating their assets to ensure they were getting maximum value from them, and looking at areas in the current budget for necessary cut backs. Our research showed that the NHS compares badly with European peers on keeping people alive with timely and effective healthcare for treatable illnesses and conditions. Technology will help but that means reforming the healthcare system so we don’t keep spending money on out-dated processes and procedures.Improving technology in healthcare can save lives. The latest machines can catch illnesses earlier and can administer more effective treatments than ever. Julia Manning of 2020 Health wrote on Friday that a heart clinic in Southampton monitors pacemakers remotely so patients don’t have to travel to hospital for check-ups and diabetes patients being warned by a text to their mobile phones if they have abnormal readings of blood pressure and blood sugar levels. This improves and simplifies the lives of patients, while easing the pressure on budgets.

My paper Wasting Lives argued that technology – along with improving lifestyles – can be bigger drivers of healthcare improvement than simply spending more money on existing systems.

So it’s crucial that the procurement of capital equipment in the NHS is cost-effective and the assets are used to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report criticising the approach to hospital equipment usage. Margaret Hodge, the PAC chair, said that the variation in the frequency machines are used across Trusts is ‘unacceptable’.

In 2009, we analysed the usage of five machines – Linacs, MRI scanners, Lithotripters, PET scanners and CT scanners – and found that it varied greatly between Trusts. For those Trusts that were below average use, bringing them up to standard would have meant more scans; over 650,000 more CT scans, for example, which is the same as having 88 additional scanners in the system.

The National Audit Office confirmed these findings in March 2011, in its report on managing capital equipment in the NHS. It found wide variations in utilisation rates of scanning machines. This means that NHS trusts are unable to compare the efficiency of machine usage with other trusts – the report says there is no repository of data to do so.

Our paper was the first to gather these numbers in a meaningful way but it’s important that this data is made available every year so that Trusts can benchmark against each other. They shouldn’t be afraid to copy the good ideas of other Trusts. Why, for example, don’t they offer scans outside of working hours, even past midnight? Perhaps they could even incentivise having scans out of hours by offering two options – a normal scan date and an earlier one for using the machine when it's in less demand?

I spoke at the National Biomedical and Clinical Engineering Conference a couple of weeks ago and it was just these types of topics that were discussed. Can Trusts deliver quality healthcare and save money? I argued that they absolutely can – by sweating their assets to ensure they were getting maximum value from them, and looking at areas in the current budget for necessary cut backs. Our research showed that the NHS compares badly with European peers on keeping people alive with timely and effective healthcare for treatable illnesses and conditions. Technology will help but that means reforming the healthcare system so we don’t keep spending money on out-dated processes and procedures.

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