May 30, 2024

NHS needs an Marks and Spencer moment, says Health Secretary

Mr Rowe stepped down as chief executive of M&S in 2022 after being credited with turning around the fortunes of the retailer and driving its appeal among younger generations.

Ms Atkins said the overhaul was achieved because the retailer was prepared to listen, urging the NHS to do the same.

She told delegates: “It’s because they have listened to what their customers have said and they also acknowledged that they need to move forward. And I think that bringing Steve into the department helping us with the productivity plan but other forms of delivery as well will be a very significant step forward.”

Ms Atkins said the NHS must “seize” the opportunities offered by technology and the transformation. Using voice-activated AI, chatbots would be able listen in to health consultations, such as those with a GP or hospital consultant, to provide almost instant records instead of medics making notes afterwards.

She told the summit: “This will mean that clinicians have your appointment with mum and her child and rather than after that appointment having to type up for 20 minutes, the notes will be created [as you go] thereby cutting down the amount of time you have to spend tapping into the computer.”

Ms Atkins said there were clear benefits for medics, freeing up their time so they spent far more of it looking after patients, rather than to “sit there typing”.

“I want you looking after patients not looking at computer screens,” she added.

But she said there was a need for a “full public conversation” about what AI will mean for healthcare, warning that the public’s trust had been “destroyed” by a “very chequered history” of attempts to digitise the NHS.

Making reference to the roll out of “federated data platforms” – with US giant Palantir given a £330 million contract to help manage swathes of data – Ms Atkins said: “We know that has huge benefits operationally within hospitals, but we need to make sure that patients understand how we are looking after their data because we know everybody wants data protection and that the people using it are using it for the right reasons to improve their care.”

‘Losing faith in capitalism’

Ms Atkins said spending by the state needed to be slimmed down because young people could not be expected to “foot the bill for an infinite increase in healthcare spending”.

Without a more productive state, younger generations might lose their faith in democracy and capitalism, she said.

“We must build a more productive state, not a bigger one. And indeed research proves this point. 

“So we need to stop the next generation being dragged into a tax and [spend] black hole where they put more in to get less out because this is a recipe not just for them losing faith in institutions we hold so dear but I’m also worried about losing faith in capitalism and losing faith in our democracy.”

Dennis Reed, the director of Silver Voices, an over-60s campaign group, said he has “huge concerns” about the use of AI to transcribe medical notes.

He said patients could feel embarrassed about being recorded, making them “not as frank as they need to be”, which could lead to misdiagnosis.

He also raised concerns about the accuracy of AI transition services, which could cause damaging errors, and the risk of recordings being hacked, once saved into the cloud.

Mr Reed said: “There are significant privacy issues here, which the NHS needs to take seriously.”

Earlier this week the current head of M&S launched a scathing attack on the Government’s handling of the economy.

Stuart Machin said doing business in Britain was “like running up a downstairs escalator with a rucksack on your back” saying some of the policies were “economically illiterate”.

He made the comments as Jeremy Hunt prepared to deliver his Budget.

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