Traditional GP model will be swept aside by tech revolution, NHS England chair predicts

The NHS has reached a tipping point in the way it provides care and the traditional model of general practice may not be able to cope with the increasingly complex wealth of data that will be available in the future, NHS England's chair has said.

NHS England chair Professor Sir Malcolm Grant
NHS England chair Professor Sir Malcolm Grant

Speaking at an event in London this week run by health technology company Babylon, Professor Sir Malcolm Grant said that the way healthcare is provided in seven years time would be ‘significantly disrupted by new technologies’.

He said that the volume of medically-related data was doubling every year and the rate of acquisition would become exponential.

‘It’s difficult to imagine the historic model of a general practitioner, which is the foundation stone of the NHS and immensely important but in some cases is recognisable from the 1948 single corner shop model, being able to cope with this increasingly complex wealth of data to provide it for the benefit of patients,’ he said. ‘So for many reasons I think we’re at a tipping point in the way in which we will provide care.’

Sir Malcolm was speaking at an event where Babylon claimed that its artificial intelligence (AI) technology was able to provide health advice to patients ‘on par with practising clincians’.

New technologies

Sir Malcolm said that NHS England was paying close attention to the work of Babylon and other technology companies and was also looking at the use of AI in relation to imaging and pathology.

‘I cannot imagine that in seven years' time [healthcare provision in Britain] will not have been significantly disrupted by new technologies. It’s not simply AI and machine learning - there are an array of other technologies coming at the same time,’ he said.

Sir Malcolm said he believed that the NHS should concentrate these new technologies ‘much more on wellness than sickness and understand how we can use them to prevent people falling into ill health in the first place’.

‘The whole point of a comprehensive universal healthcare system is to promote long lives, but long healthy lives,’ he said. ‘I would love to see a system in which we have the need for fewer acute hospitals and fewer very expensive interventions, including towards the end of life.’

NHS England will shortly be publishing a consultation paper on digital-first medicine, Sir Malcolm added. He said he hoped this would promote more debate on the relationship between the medical profession, technology and patients.

A report by former health minister Lord Ara Darzi published last week found that almost a third of GP time could be freed up by harnessing the power of technology to automate elements of primary care workload. The report said that up to £12.5bn could be saved across the NHS as a whole by wider use of automation and AI.

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