By Hugo Breda, Managing Director, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, UK & Ireland

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Hugo BredaOver the last year, I’ve had many conversations with NHS managers, policy makers, doctors and nurses. It’s impossible to exaggerate how tough this period has been for each of them – especially those on the frontline in hospitals. But hearing the spirit that has got them through these incredibly difficult times, has been truly inspiring.

I believe that in times of adversity, people often find clarity. Witnessing the focused-way healthcare professionals have dealt with the challenges of an unknown virus, unprecedented capacity struggles and the need to look after one another at work has been beyond impressive.

Clarity through adversity

My own organisation has faced challenges too – in normal times, colleagues are in theatre each day supporting surgical teams with the medical technology used in operations. A reduction in elective cases and reduced physical interaction with our healthcare partners has certainly proved difficult; all happening at a time when our business was preparing to meet the challenges of exiting the European Union. 

But despite these difficulties, we too have managed to find the clarity required to focus on what matters. As the virus hit, we were clear that we needed to focus solely on the ways we could support the health system and ultimately our patients.

I’m proud of what we have achieved through virtually supporting surgical teams, a revamped digital HCP training programme, supporting the reconfiguration of NHS surgical services, the introduction of digital tools as well as donations to the frontline.

But the intention of this article is not to boast about the ways we have supported, but to explore how we can make the most of our collective learnings and current mindset to support the NHS as it recovers from this pandemic in the months and years to come. There are three interconnected areas that have served us well across the last year and should drive us to success going forward, both for our industry as well as the NHS itself: Innovation, Efficiency and tackling Health Inequalities.

The time for innovation

The pandemic has demonstrated how quickly things can happen when there is critical need for innovation at speed, – whether it be procuring PPE, reconfiguring hospitals or developing a vaccine. We need to have that same sense of urgency in reducing the surgical backlog and improving public health when the challenge of Covid-19 subsides.

The Government has an opportunity to embrace innovation more than ever before – to take advantage of its new position outside of the EU and create a mindset and regulatory landscape where the UK is an attractive market for innovation at speed. Of course, the MedTech industry must continue to innovate in a timely manner, but the NHS must be supported to be able to embrace and adopt new technologies that increase patient outcomes and reduce patient length of stay.

Data and efficiency

Collaborating to harness valuable data to make informed decisions for patients is key. Data is fundamental for understanding the burden of disease and unmet need, as well as delivering new treatments and quality, safe, personalised healthcare. We must allow data to flow freely so the best decisions can be taken, whilst protecting the privacy and trust in the patients we serve. 
And we must use this data to become more efficient, reduce variability in surgical procedures and produce care that is smarter and less invasive. At JJMD we use tools like our Surgical Process Institute to support surgeons to follow step-by-step procedures for surgery, and C-SATS which allows for surgeons to provide crowdsourced feedback to each other on videos of procedures to encourage best practice.

We are focused on making sure that Value Based Healthcare is at the front of our plans for 2021. Our teams partner with hospitals and STPs on theatre efficiency management, reconfiguration of services, waiting list management, patient pathway improvement and engagement programmes. We are focused on supporting value, efficiencies and better patient outcomes, alongside the MedTech that we are known for.

Tackling health inequalities

Most importantly; when we are redesigning services, it is crucial that we have long-term public health challenges front of our mind, committing to tackling health inequalities right across the country. A preventative approach in disease state areas like Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke is crucial. But we must also make sure that proven care pathways and technologies are accessible right across the UK, 24/7 for people, ending the postcode lottery many face when it comes to getting the best care. 

Obesity is one area that has been put in the spotlight as it is a risk factor for COVID-19 hospitalisation; but we know that Obesity is linked with similar trajectories for other health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease. Government must commit to its Obesity strategy and must recognise metabolic disease to include everything from prevention through to treatment, including redesigning weight management services that are fit for purpose and including surgical options. If done properly, these direct interventions can reduce the level of other complications in society that have obesity at its core.

A collaborative future

The public health crisis we have faced in the last year has certainly taught our industry lessons. It has allowed us to grow, to learn new skills and to adapt our focus to what matters most. Within the NHS, the speed of activation has been exceptional, and I applaud those who have achieved this. When the pandemic eases, as it will in the coming months, it is imperative that we continue to work together with urgency, to make the most of upcoming innovation and technology, to embrace the data, tools and partners that allow us to work more efficiently, and to tackle the public health inequalities that have such a cost on individual and public health in society. We will need to continue to have clarity and laser focus on what matters most, and how we can best achieve our collective goals.