Having attended this equivalent Cardiff University event last year and been encouraged by a level of tangible innovation, I was keen to take a return trip to see how the 2014 version compared.
The event back on January 22nd seemed especially pertinent. Leading the news headlines in Wales over the previous week had been two separate, tragic incidents in the north and south of Wales, both concerning excessive waiting times for ambulances, both leading to fatalities. Additional stories this week have concerned the postponement of planned surgery across north Wales due to increased pressure, and a plan to centralise care for babies born in west Wales.
Soberly titled, ‘Healthcare in South Wales: Opportunities for Innovation & Lessons from Elsewhere’, from the outset it suggested high-level strategic policy, established public sector messages and statistics. This was partly in contrast to the considerably more fun 2013 offering, when there was a whistle-stop tour given of practical applications by a number of passionate academic speakers.
The event speakers and presentations this year:
* Professor Lars Sundstrom, Director of Enterprise & Translation, The West of England Academic Health Science Network: Experiences from across the border and opportunities for collaborative working
* Professor Sue Bale OBE, Director SEWAHSP and R&D Director, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board: Potential of the South East Wales Academic Health Science Partnership (SEWAHSP) to make a difference at the sharp end
* Professor Kevin Morgan, Dean, Engagement, Cardiff University: Healthcare in Deprived Areas
* Ifan Evans, Head of Healthcare Innovation, Welsh Government: What’s driving Welsh Government Healthcare Innovation policy?
* Chair: Professor Keith Harding, Dean, Clinical Innovation, Cardiff University
Each talk was perfectly assured, providing engaging insights and valid points – many of which were repeated from the previous year. This perhaps shouldn’t have come as a surprise. There is still a huge ageing population and the same pressures still exist; the issues haven’t changed radically. But as a whole the event felt to me like a slightly unrealised, disappointing sequel to the 2013 version, almost a repeat with the good parts taken out.
There was a common language crammed with similar buzzwords: open innovation, challenge-led innovation, crowd science, catalysts and ecosystem building, knowledge transfer partnerships, community based research, workshops and websites. (Is it now too easy to parade digital activity and social media interactions as a meaningful benchmark?) There was plenty of talking about talking about talking. Everyone, it seems, is still dying to talk. This is good, yes, but surely a minimal requirement? It’s 2014 now. We must have moved on from being pleased with ourselves for engaging with others.
Maybe I wasn’t listening as intently as I ought, but the practical examples, new case studies, success stories, material of encouraging substance: that all seemed few and far between. Perhaps there wasn’t time to go into detail, or maybe it wasn’t the objective of this event, unlike last year. All the same, a few more hints of it might have been nice.
While I profess no great expertise in healthcare, I thought the aforementioned recent issues dominating the healthcare headlines would be mentioned in some form. When the time came for questions at the end, given the subjects covered, raising these issues felt somehow inappropriate or ‘off-piste’. It’s possible they would have been deflected using the recurring messages of relieving the pressure and dependency on healthcare professionals, giving the GPs and hospitals a break by better informing local communities.
And ultimately what can be done anyway? Surely all the innovation in the world will struggle to support health services if hospital beds simply aren’t available and ambulances containing legitimate emergencies are routinely queuing at the door. How far are inadequate ambulance response times a logistical, resource issue? And how far are they organisational challenges, resolvable by newer and smarter ways of working? I’m aware of the frustrations of those more knowledgeable and invested than I, particularly frustrations at the top-heavy Welsh NHS management, and the cyclical nature of annual boardroom discussions.
It feels like these issues must be addressed with some urgency somewhere, but maybe this event, as well-run and perfectly delivered as it was, wasn’t the right forum.
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