Scotland is increasingly seen as a world leader in telehealth and telecare, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said today, but added that she would now like to see us go “further and faster”.
Opening the second day of Holyrood magazine’s two-day telehealthcare summit in Glasgow, Sturgeon spoke of the health benefits and economic potential of developing and deploying telehealth and telecare solutions in Scotland.
She told the audience that it is “no exaggeration” to describe telehealthcare as “one of the most exciting things in healthcare today, and also one of the most important.”
The demographic projections are “mind-blowing”, Sturgeon said. According to the most recent figures from the Registrar General for Scotland, the number of over 75s is expected to expand by 10,000 people every year through to 2021. If we don’t change the way we deliver care then by the 2030s we would require an additional 10 new hospitals to accommodate them, Sturgeon said.
“I should say when I pose that as a challenge that it is first and foremost a really good thing that we have more older people because it is a sign of success. We are all living longer and healthier lives so we should celebrate it.
“But we really also have to make sure it changes and challenges the way we think about things and the way that we do things, because if it doesn’t we are going to find the way we do things right now becomes pretty unsustainable in the not too distant future.”
One of the solutions is the shift in the balance of care to treat more people in communities and in their own homes rather than in hospitals, Sturgeon said. This is a very important change, she stressed, but added that this alone will not be sufficient.
“What I think we all have to face up to is that these demographic projections tell us that we need to do much more than shift people from one part of our status quo system to another part of our status quo system. We need to do more than that, and the more that we need to do is the subject matter that we are speaking about today,” she said.
“We need to find new forms of care and support and new ways of delivering that care and support if our cherished health and social care services are going to be sustainable well into the future, which all of us want to ensure that they are.”
Scotland has a “proven track record” of delivering services in innovative ways and there is “compelling” evidence for the benefits and the potential of telehealth, she said, quoting the example of the telestroke service in Scotland. Those health boards who have used a telestroke service have seen a 151 per cent increase in thrombolysis treatment rates, compared to a 23 per cent increase for those areas providing a more ‘traditional’ service, she said. This is something that she said we have “every right to shout about and be proud of.”
It also underlines the importance of continued investment in telehealth and telecare.
“This is why I am committed to continued investment in telehealthcare and why I expect and want to see local health boards and social care authorities working in partnership to continue funding telehealthcare programmes,” she said.
” I would go as far as to say that to not build on the immensely successful development programme would not just be short sighted but it would be a real neglect of the responsibility we have to drive this forward.”
Scotland has made “good progress”, she said. However, she added that she now hopes to see us go “further and faster”.
While the health benefits are uppermost, Sturgeon said we should also “never lose sight” of the “massive economic potential” of telehealthcare. Scotland is “well placed” to take advantages of these opportunities, she said, adding that ” we should also recognise the fact that we are increasingly seen as a world leader in this area.” This presents Scotland with an opportunity to build on this platform and work with European partners to attract more funding to Scotland, she explained.
“If we are, as I believe we are, seen as the place where it is happening, the leaders in this, then that gives us an enormous opportunity to access that funding and further accelerate the pace of what we are doing,” Sturgeon said.
Overall, Scotland has a “huge amount” to be proud of but an even greater deal to be ambitious about, she said, as she urged delegates not to be put off by doubters and skeptics but instead work to prove them wrong.
“One of the great truths in life is that those who innovate, those who push forward to make progress often meet with skeptics – those in life who say it can never be done, it is too big, it is too difficult, we’ll never see that happening in our lifetime. The job of all of you in this room and your colleagues is to be the leaders, to provide the leadership, the vision and the commitment to prove the doubters wrong and to demonstrate through the work that you do that it can be done, that it will be done and we will see it in our lifetime.
Doubters, cynics and skeptics will always exist. “But those with the leadership, and the vision, and the guts and the determination usually win through, she said, adding:
“Never be afraid of innovation and change. Don’t just embrace it; be the leaders that make it happen.”