Talking about business and the NHS as part of the same discussion often leads to the claim ‘privatisation’ in my experience. But this is not a simplistic scenario we are describing and I suspect that the majority of people don’t fully understand the financial workings and contractual arrangements held by the NHS when that claim is made.
Business has been a part of the NHS for as long as the institution itself, and in its 70th birthday year, I welcome the question of how business can help take the strain off the NHS.
The One Health Group is a living and breathing example of how to do just that and what perplexes me, is that at this time of greatest demand there isn’t a more open conversation about the relationship between business and the NHS in all its forms.
Business supplies food, medical equipment, goods and services, technical / digital support and innovation, management consultancy AND healthcare services directly to NHS patients. In fact, there are probably as many parts of the NHS which are independent businesses as there are actual NHS organisations.
Your local GP service is, in effect, an independent business with its own budget and its own profit and loss making activities. Yet to most people, walking through the door of their local GP surgery, their GP services will be considered the bedrock of the NHS – free at the point of delivery and with little understanding of the businesses which sit behind that practice, ensuring it can deliver great care.
Technology companies are transforming the health service, making it simpler for patients to book appointments and order prescriptions, and allowing doctors to monitor their patients’ health and diagnose conditions more effectively.
For organisations like One Health, our services are also free at the point of delivery. We actually consider ourselves a part of the NHS wider conglomeration of services, ‘part of the solution’ – albeit as an independent business.
The NHS pays us to deliver care to NHS patients, to take the pressure off NHS Trust elective waiting lists, and to ensure patients get the best, most safe and timely treatment – in an environment that is close to the community that they live in and that further reduces the pressure on acute NHS Trust beds.
To my mind this is an excellent example of how business can help to take the pressure off the NHS. It is very clear that the NHS lacks the capacity to deal with demand and has therefore adopted a very successful strategy in working with businesses like ours to make sure patients’ needs are properly addressed. The NHS should be applauded for seeking solutions from business but it also needs to shout about it.
What we need are sensible, honest discussions about how the NHS is organised and funded, rather than one which appears so locked into a rather sentimental ideology which portrays the NHS as a single entity, always in crisis and always worthy of additional cash to support it.
There are some serious matters to unpick regarding efficiency and value for money in the NHS and at scale, the NHS has much to learn from business where profit and loss genuinely means risk to survival.
Lucy Nickson is chief executive of One Health Group.