Tech

How technology will transform the NHS

In 70 years, the NHS has revolutionised the health of the British people.

But in the next 70 years, technology will change medicine as we know it.

Surgical robots for example offer great advances.

We watched at the Princess Grace Hospital in London as a surgical arm called Mako helped carry out a hip replacement on 57-year-old Richard Ellis.

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Image: The Mako robotic arm can help reduce pain and recovery time

Because of the robot's precision, Mr Ellis's pain and recovery time should both be reduced.

"When the robot cuts, the robot cuts in the right place," said Professor Fares Haddad, a pioneer in surgical robotics in the UK.

"I think there's no question that this is the future of surgery. There is no industry where robotics have come in where they've left again. It's the way forward."

He also admitted, however, that the "surgical community are scared of losing their jobs".

Surgeons should be safe for a while though. At present, the NHS owns only one of these expensive tools.

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Surgeons use software to make sure Mako is in the right place
Image: Surgeons use software to make sure Mako is in the right place

One of the biggest potential developments involves pre-empting an illness by reading a patient's DNA.

People are hailing gene-editing technology as every bit as revolutionary as the invention of antibiotics.

It is something that could happen before you are born – for example in cases where a woman carries a mitochondrial condition, and is well herself, but could pass it on to her offspring.

"We have new techniques which are just starting where you transfer the nucleus from her egg, making sure you don't take any mitochondria from her egg, into another woman's egg, where there are totally normal mitochondria, and remove the nucleus that's in that egg," said clinical geneticist at St George's Hospital in London, Dr Meriel McEntagart.

"Then she's able to have a child with great reassurance that the child won't have one of these devastating mitochondrial diseases.

"That level of manipulation is on the horizon, I think."

This bedside computer is helping to transform care at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Image: This bedside computer is helping to transform care at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham

While it may not be as glamorous as a robot, or DNA analysis, a bedside computer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is almost as powerful as a team of medics.

It is replacing paper with data and represents another massive breakthrough for the NHS.

Such computers are already relieving much of a nurse's work by recording patients' conditions.

The digital profiles they produce enable doctors to treat patients almost instantly.

New technology has made it easier for Isha Ali to get pain relief for kidney failure
Image: New technology has made it easier for Isha Ali to get pain relief for kidney failure

Isha Ali, who has been in and out of hospital all her life with kidney failure, said it made her more comfortable.

"If I need pain relief the nurses won't even take five minutes to give it to me," she said.

"If I go back five or six years I'd have to be waiting hours on end for pain relief.

"And it wasn't the staff's fault. It was just the way the system was. Now all I have to do is ask and I've got my pain relief.

"I'm just so happy with it all."

The Queen Elizabeth, however, is one of very few hospitals to have gone digital.

If the NHS can digitise its tens of millions of medical records, it could offer untold possibilities for data sharing and diagnosis.

Digitising all the NHS's records would help data sharing and diagnosis
Image: Digitising all the NHS's records would help data sharing and diagnosis

With this extraordinary innovation comes many ethical questions.

Could gene editing, for example, lead to social cleansing and a race of superhumans who could afford it?

More from NHS

Tom Shakespeare, who was born with achondroplasia, and is professor of disability research at the University of East Anglia, thinks it is a dangerous idea.

"The number of people with disabilities who've built the world we live in is extraordinary," he said, adding that the internet and mobile phones were designed, "mostly (by) people on the autistic spectrum".

Original Article

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