Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for urgent investment in the digital infrastructure required to ensure that UK healthcare continues to improve and advance.
Mr Blair, founder and patron of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), made the call in the Royal College of Physicians’ Future Healthcare Journal. With co-writer Chris Yiu, head of technology and public policy at the TBI, Mr Blair argues that advances in technologies like sensors, artificial intelligence, drug discovery and regenerative medicine have the potential to deliver a step-change in the efficacy and affordability of health interventions.
The article acknowledges that technological advances have already been made in certain areas such as mental health and social care, often in the form of mindfulness apps, or online services. But it also points to mistrust of big data and artificial intelligence. Both have the potential to increase the accuracy of diagnoses and help personalise treatments, say Mr Blair and Mr Yiu:
"Bungled implementations have caused people to question how well patient data is being protected and whether decision-makers are putting private profit before the public interest.
"Better civic engagement and a more honest public debate about why change is needed will be essential if we are to move forward rather than set progress back by decades."
The authors also take note of the difficulty in encouraging people to let go of decades of paper-based administration and bureaucracy, and instead embrace digital solutions that will last. Digital transformation, they say, is hard to achieve when a system must continue to run efficiently throughout those major changes.
Strong and committed political leadership will be essential, say Mr Blair and Mr Yiu, and they encourage leaders to consider short-term experimentation and risk-taking in order to realise long-term progress: "In the end, technology is driven by people, and the wave of change it is bringing about is breaking upon every country.
"If ridden with intelligence and purpose, it can carry us to a bright future, but if let pass, it will maroon us in a sea of irrelevance and decline."