Can NHS England’s Healthy New Towns programme present an opportunity to rethink how we live?

How long before we see a real and dramatic change in the way health and care services are delivered in England on a large scale? It’s a question you can be forgiven for asking – and subsequently thinking that we’re still a long way from achieving – but the recent announcements by NHS England around the Healthy New Towns (HNT) programme had me thinking about how bricks & mortar could be the catalyst for change that health and care services need.

Healthcare at the Heart of New Developments

The HNT programme will facilitate joined-up thinking from clinicians, designers and technology experts who will essentially start with a blank slate with house-builders creating new developments. From designing infrastructure which will make healthy activities such as walking and cycling safer (and thus more attractive) to the sharing of technology and information across a range of public services such as healthcare and social care, the programme aims to deliver better healthcare in a more efficient and economically sound way.

I think we’d all agree that a new approach to the provision of healthcare is needed in England and across the UK. Budgets are under pressure, we have an increasingly elderly population and chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity are swallowing up huge resources. So what can new models of health & care services look like in a Healthy New Town and what advantages might it bring?

Utilizing Technology

NHS England’s Five Year Forward View clearly states that technology will play an important role in enabling change. Three key areas where I see technology bringing significant improvements for a Healthy New Town are:

  • Improved communication across the health and social care ecosystem – moving patient records to an electronic system ensures that patient information is always up-to-date and always available anytime and anywhere, whether that be on a desktop computer, on a hospital ward or on a 2 in 1 device in the hands of a community nurse. The data can be easily and securely shared too, amongst authorized parties such as social care teams, thus helping to deliver a seamless patient experience through primary, secondary and social care. Often, these electronic medical records are made up of unstructured case notes which may contain hidden value to clinicians. For example, North East London NHS Foundation Trust and Santana Big Data Analytics are working together on a project to extract value from unstructured case notes using data analytics for the benefit of health and social care teams. Read this whitepaper[PDF] for more insight on that project.
  • Making new homes more accessible and connected – there are some obvious and practical considerations around accessibility for those with mobility issues which should be easy to plan into a new-build property. I’m also keen to see how the concept of smart homes and the internet of things can be incorporated into new building developments and how such technologies could be used within new health & care models.
  • Accessing healthcare in new ways – millennials access many aspects of their daily lives through a connected mobile device, whether that be banking services, social media or checking on a utility bill for example; and healthcare will be no different. With faster high-speed internet connections and 5G mobile network capabilities coming soon I see the ways in which future generations access healthcare will change too, e.g. a face-to-face consultation with a GP may no longer be the first option for patients.

Those are just three examples but there are certainly more and I’d love to hear how you see this Healthy New Towns programme playing out and the benefits it can bring (leave a comment @IntelHealth on Twitter or contact me via LinkedIn). We need to take a more holistic approach to health and care to make a real difference, so the design of this type of new community is a step in the right direction.