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Practice comment

Support innovative products and devices to avoid a funding crisis

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As the ageing population increases, nurses need to work with NHS managers to provide patients with cost effective care at home using assistive technology, says Christopher Harris

The NHS must find ways of caring for older people in their own homes, if it is to manage the rising costs of care provision for the ageing population. By 2020 an estimated 50% of the UK’s population will be over 50, and demand for acute inpatient beds could outstrip supply if we cannot find ways to provide cheaper care for people in the community.

Currently, more than 15 million people in the UK live with long term conditions. Many rely on assistive technologies (AT) to help manage their condition. AT is a broad field and is not necessarily synonymous with telehealth or telecare; rather, it is any device or technology that helps people to perform tasks more independently, regain some control over certain aspects of their lives and assist them with daily living.

AT can range from complex communication aids or environmental controls (such as devices to turn lights on or off) to less sophisticated, but no less useful devices, such as mobility or eating and drinking products.

New technologies have the ability to improve health and wellbeing significantly by enabling independence and allowing patients to remain active in their own homes. While this is something we would wish for ourselves and our families, despite this, often healthcare professionals do not make maximum use of AT due to problems with healthcare provision.

In many cases, NHS trusts have processes that result in a restricted supply of AT to patients. Moreover, healthcare professionals who use or prescribe AT are often not the people who make the decision of whether to provide these technologies. Unfortunately, in many instances decisions are based on how much the technology costs rather than the impact on users.

“Silo budgeting” is another major barrier. Many companies develop innovative devices and technologies that meet unmet clinical need, which are used effectively and endorsed by users and professionals, only to find their products are not widely purchased. This is because it is often difficult to spend more in one budget on devices, even though this might significantly reduce the overall health budget. NHS trusts, managers and healthcare staff need to work together to find a solution to the “not my budget” problem.

Devices for Dignity Healthcare Technology Co-operative (D4D) is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) programme, specifically set up to drive forward innovative new products, processes and services to help people with debilitating conditions deal with daily challenges. By working with inventors, clinical and healthcare staff, industry, academics and patients, we bring real solutions to areas of patient need.

We are unique in that we have a national focus and are able to provide hands-on support to innovators, rather than simply pointing in the right direction. This means D4D can speed up the process from idea to market. Specifically interested in adopting and diffusing technology, D4D is conducting research to help develop a blueprint that may address some of the issues discussed above. However, this can only be accomplished if all parties involved accept they each have a part to play in providing a more efficient and cost effective approach to how innovation is exploited.

Devices for Dignity supports the Nursing Times Product Awards and encourages healthcare professionals to nominate those companies that have provided devices that have made either their, or more importantly, their patients’ care better.

  • Devices for Dignity is supported by the NIHR, Technology Strategy Board, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Medical Research Council. Click here for more information.

CHRISTOPHER HARRIS is commercial director, Devices for Dignity Healthcare Technology Co-operative and a former nurse

Nursing Times product awards

The Nursing Times Product Awards recognise and reward prducts that transform patient care.

Right now if you nominate the most innovative product that you have used you will be entered into a draw to win one of five copies of Clinical Pocket Reference for Nurses.

Click here for details of how to enter.

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