Innovating out the humanity?

I was at the King’s Fund (health think tank) yesterday for a discussion about innovation in the NHS. It’s always interesting to be part of a discussion about healthcare. Partly because I am always the least knowledgeable person in the room when it comes to all kinds of crucial technical points – tariffs, CQUINs and all the other bits of jargon which bamboozle non-NHS folk like me. And partly because I never fail to be shocked by the difference between the cultures of the NHS and social care.

Both sectors talk constantly about the need for integration. And yet we can barely talk the same language. We don’t even appear to share all of the same goals.

An interesting point in Richard Bohmers’s opening presentation at the session, which was a review of innovation in the NHS, included a throwaway point which seemed to me worth some deep thought.

Richard noted that there are tensions in healthcare innovation – between for instance, trying to give people increasingly specialised responses, but also wanting to people to experience one, integrated NHS, not several different organisations. The tension he noted which struck a particular chord with me was the tension between greater efficiency, which can mean things like automated and hi-tech interventions, and our desire to be supported by people who care -in the common sense of the word – not just people who are efficient at caring tasks. Is innovation in the NHS antithetic to compassion? Have we innovated the caring out of the NHS? And if so, how do we make use of technology and whizzy systems thinking in health care provision, but also bring the humanity back in? Interested in your thoughts – a couple more ruminations from this discussion to follow later in the week.