BQ2 invited three high-profile members of Birmingham’s professional services community, to give their personal opinions on the challenges ahead for the region’s healthcare sector.
Ali Breadon, the government and public sector lead for PwC in the Midlands, believes devolution can be the catalyst for a new era of reform. “While the Spring Budget’s injection of £2bn for social care over the next three years was welcome, the reality is that it is not a substitute for the long-term solution to the huge pressures that services face.
“PwC’s research into the health and care system, Redrawing the Health and Social Care Architecture, shows that, the balance of power needs to be shifted to local areas so that political accountability, financial responsibility and operational control are better aligned at the local level.
“The West Midlands mayoral elections in May will see devolved power become a reality for the region. However, if we are to make health and social care devolution a success there are a number of factors to consider and challenges to overcome.
“A place-based approach is important to successful health and care devolution, or integration, and depends on stakeholders placing more focus on a collaborative impact for people in their place, instead of individual organisational interests.
“A broader approach to long-term reform will reap dividends. Given that the majority of health outcomes are determined by factors other than the care people receive, a more radical approach is needed to also tackle wider socio-economic issues, such as unemployment, poverty and housing.
“Too many people are being kept out of productive work due to poor health, therefore improving health and social care services will have a wider economic impact by contributing to economic growth, as well reducing pressures on public services.
“Whilst there is a challenging journey ahead for health and social care organisations, having a shared mission and sense of purpose will be critical. Devolution should give us the impetus to come together, tackle public service reform and deliver better outcomes for people and places.”
Julian Smith, a partner in the healthcare practice at Mills & Reeve, is impressed by the strength of Birmingham’s healthcare economy and progress on the city’s new Life Sciences Park. “Healthcare remains a safe bet for investors, despite the UK’s relatively shaky macroeconomic landscape. Private equity, which currently accounts for half of the sector’s buying activity, sees it as one of the most Brexit-proof sectors for many reasons - and not least the market fundamental of patient need.
“At a local level, the Midlands has a strong position in the UK healthcare sector, driven by large-scale research and innovation projects such as the University of Birmingham’s latest 9.9-acre development, which is set to become a leading life sciences location and drive new technological advancement.
“Pair these strengths with an increasing demand for capacity, innovation and skills to support the NHS and the region is well-placed to capitalise on new investment opportunities.
“The wider sector is also seeing rising global activity; more overseas healthcare businesses are bidding for UK opportunities in the market, opening up more options for the Midlands.
“In March, the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum took place in Birmingham, aimed at strengthening ties between international investors and the region’s life sciences, highlighting opportunities and building long-term relationships - a promising sign for the future of the sector in the region.
“However, healthcare is not completely immune to the pressures that other sectors are facing as a result of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, particularly the right to work implications for a large proportion of its workforce.
“Natural staff wastage isn’t being replenished quite as easily from the EU, as it was pre-Brexit and finding and retaining people is an increasing challenge.
“What independent sector health needs is wider recognition of the crucial role it performs in supporting the NHS and certainty for its current and prospective EU employees. But in the meantime, healthcare continues to be bought and sold at a rate that will keep it at the heart of the Midlands economy.”
At KPMG, Birmingham-based partner Mike Steventon, who chairs the UK public sector and healthcare teams, admits that integrating healthcare and social care at regional level is a major challenge, but highlights the region’s expertise. “Like all of our regional economies, the Midlands faces a real challenge in providing efficient and effective healthcare as it manages the increasing demand from an ageing demographic.
“How we integrate healthcare and social care at a regional level is one of the biggest challenges that devolution has had, however, the Midlands is at the forefront in a lot of these areas.
“For example, the work being done by Prof Charlie Craddock and Prof Subrata Ghosh in Birmingham, in identifying new treatments for patients across a range of major health issues.
“What’s also unique is the diversity and stability of the multicultural population we have in the Midlands, making it the perfect base to run clinical trials for new treatments.
“Additionally, across the region, we have some of the UK’s leading universities developing medical devices as well as treatments.
“The importance of community and collaboration between academia and the private sector is essential, and we have clusters of life sciences organisations that are working closely together, particularly around University Hospital Birmingham.
“Healthcare and life sciences organisations are taking fundamental steps forward as the industry evolves from curative treatment-based solutions to increasingly preventative treatments that predict diseases and detect early signs.
“In the future, we’ll see things like telematics and other tools being used more to monitor our health, exercise and dietary intake, as well as helping to identify symptoms.
“Other UK regions see life sciences as a critical industry and need for investment, so it’s important that we build on past successes and treat this as a sector that needs to be encouraged, supported and invested in across the Midlands.
“Healthcare and life sciences will also be crucial in the future in providing a financial contribution to our economy, not just in the ways that we treat and look after our citizens.”