Invest more in technology to cut the National Health Service (NHS) cost is the solution suggested by the AstraZeneca boss, as the United Kingdom grapples with a serious health crisis amid the austerity measures taken by the Tory governments since 2010.
The NHS is under severe pressure, with the emergency services [A&E (Accidents and Emergency)] waits at record levels and strike action against low pay amid an alarming rise in cost of living exacerbating ambulance delays.
Last week, Unite – a labour union – warned that only double-digit NHS pay raise from “lying” Tory ministers will end national strikes across the austerity-hit health service.
Unite General-Secretary Sharon Graham also urged Labour to show “real leadership” by stating what the party would offer underpaid and overstretched key workers if it were in power.
It was revealed in earlier survey that four in 10 junior doctors wanted to leave the NHS as soon as they could find another job due to poor pay and working condition.
AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson said more spending on areas such as artificial intelligence and screening could prevent illness and stop people going to hospital, reported BBC.
He said about 97% of healthcare cost were a product of “when people present at the hospital” with only the remaining 3 percent made up of spending on vaccination, early detection or screening.
Johansson told the BBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos: “If we can get into an investment mode in health for screening or prevention or early diagnostics on health and see that as an investment to reduce the cost of sickness then I think we have a much better model over time that would serve us well.”
Commenting on the UK, he said: “All countries have different systems and the NHS is one which we have learned to live with and I think the Brits, in general, are quite appreciative about it.”
He said he was not talking about “breaking any healthcare systems down”. Rather, he said, “we should embrace technology and science”.
Johansson said artificial intelligence, or AI, could be used to diagnose lung cancer through X-rays by “just running them through software”. Or technology could be used to screen diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.
“All of that can be done within the institution of the NHS and would still have a very beneficial impact,” he said.
The NHS is facing more industrial action on Monday when ambulance workers in some parts of England and Wales, who are members of the Unite union, go out on strike in a dispute over pay with further strikes planned by ambulance workers and nurses later this month and in February.
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, Johansson had expressed concern about whether AstraZeneca would continue investing in the country.
But he now says the UK has the opportunity to innovate in technology for the healthcare sector outside of European regulations. “The UK already has a very, very good life science sector academically but also industrially with a couple of very large players, ourselves included.
“Anything that we can do in the UK would be beneficial for the country on a broader aspect than only using it in the UK.”
Johansson will step down as non-executive chairman of AstraZeneca in April. He will be replaced by Michel Demaré, currently a non-executive director at the pharmaceutical company who holds similar roles at Vodafone among others.
40% junior doctors want to leave NHS
A survey conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) had found in December last year that four in 10 junior doctors were actively planning to quit the NHS as soon as they could find another job as poor pay and working conditions were among the main reasons behind the desire to leave the service.
Faced with a growing cost of living crisis, another recent survey found that junior doctors were cutting back on buying food and heating their homes to help make ends meet.
The survey also found that a third of respondents were planning to work abroad in the next 12 months, with Australia being the top choice of destination, a clear embarrassment for the Brexit supporters who had opted for leaving the European Union.
It warned that the NHS “will simply not be able to cope” if there was such an exodus of junior doctors next year.
“The situation is severe. A third of junior doctors are planning to work in another country. Four in 10 say that as soon as they can find another job, they will leave the NHS. The health service will simply not be able to cope,” Prof Philip Banfield of BMA said.
“For decades the NHS was the envy of the world. But without our doctors’ expertise, the country will get sicker. We will not accept impoverished healthcare for our nation, or acquiesce to those looking to slash pay and drive down living standards for NHS staff. In 2023 we will stand together with patients, an organised workforce ready to act.”
Similarly, another BMA official Dr Vivek Trivedi said the survey results were hugely concerning.
“If our government doesn’t act now, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this will lead: an exodus of junior doctors to foreign countries, with the ones who stay in the NHS facing an ever-increasing workload – until they feel they have no option but to leave too or get burnt-out.”
He added, “If the government wants ‘move to Australia’ to stay off the new year resolution lists of junior doctors this year, it is going to have to start by reversing the 26 percent real-terms pay cut they have endured since 2008 – or at the very least start speaking with us and stop ignoring our repeated calls to address our pay.”