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A new digital platform could save the NHS £1bn every year

City A.M. Friday, 20 April 2018
A new digital platform could save the NHS £1bn every yearDepending on who you ask, the UK’s National Health Service is one of two things. Either, it’s the pride of a nation and envy of the world, which must be protected at all costs. Or, it’s a bureaucratic relic, consistently lagging behind most comparable systems in terms of health outcome, desperate for reform.

Since its inception, the NHS has been a political football. No single party has ever quite “got it right”. Not a year passes in which the NHS doesn’t desperately need more money to stay afloat. Talk of saving the NHS money is invariably met with suspicion – people assume cutbacks, outsourcing, closures.

Melissa Morris, founder of Lantum, insists that using her technology, the NHS could save £1bn a year, without any nasty surprises.

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“This is a B2B platform that helps healthcare providers run more efficiently,” says Morris. “Essentially, we help organisations join together and share staff. So it might be that one organisation has access to more specialists than another, but if they join together they can create a shared staff bank, that can actually allow them to leverage each other’s staff.”

The NHS spends billions on locum services each year, 30 per cent of which go on recruitment agency fees, according to Morris. Out of around 50,000 GPs in the UK, some 30,000 do locuming to some extent – whether out of hours, or on the side.

With a nod to the gig economy, Lantum’s platform cuts out the middleman, making it easier and cheaper to connect the right doctor with the right surgery at the right time.

“I would say there always has been a sort of gig economy in healthcare, because of the shift-based nature of the work,” says Morris. “There’s always been people who pick up extra shifts to make extra money. But I think increasingly the market is growing, and a lot of that is driven by additional pressure on the healthcare system.

“But the other factor is women – there’s just so many more women who work in the health system who need a more flexible life.”

*Infrastructure*

With a background in consulting for McKinsey, Morris, tasked with improving the NHS, witnessed first-hand the disarray it was in. Her next job was working for the NHS directly, coincidentally at the time the National Programme for IT was disbanded, following years of holdups and failures at an exorbitant cost to the taxpayer.

“All of a sudden, there were all of these people working on that project, just filling the office. They had to continue working even though the project has been disbanded. It was ridiculous. If you think about what could have been done with that money, it’s so serious.”

It’s fair to say that the NHS doesn’t do IT infrastructure projects well, which probably explains why, in an age of ubiquitous computing, it’s the world’s biggest buyer of fax machines.

But to suggest a private company might just offer a better solution is dangerous. To the more dogmatic campaigners, the NHS is being privatised by “stealth” or by “the backdoor”.

“People who don’t understand what we do will say things like that,” says Morris. “We’re a software provider to help the public sector do better. Fine, we are a private company, but we haven’t taken any money from NHS to build the product – we raise it all from private markets. All we’re doing is helping people by helping the NHS sustain. And if we could really save, say, a billion, how much better off would the system be?”

Clearly this hit a nerve.

“I think when people look at companies like Babylon, for example – which is one of our clients – they say: ‘oh they are taking patients from the NHS’. But actually, all GP practices are private. They basically take money from the NHS, and what they don’t spend, they keep as profit.

“But people don’t know that. So I think there is a real lack of understanding about how the system really operates and works.”

Being open to technological and business innovation from the private sector is clearly paramount when it comes to NHS longevity. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has laid out a five-year forward view, much of which pays testament to this need.

“We’re part of this thing called the NHS Innovation Accelerator,” says Morris. “They picked seven companies and helped them spread across the system. I just think, you wouldn’t have had that sort of thing even five years ago, because people were so nervous of startups and technology. But now I think they really see the value in it.”

*Doctor, doctor*

It’s not just the NHS as an organisation which the platform helps. The feedback from doctors themselves has been overwhelmingly positive. Morris says Lantum operates an open door policy – doctors are constantly in and out of its office.

“It’s good for us, we get to build even greater empathy for our users,” she says. “But I think the biggest thing is about the time we’ve saved for them. Previously, they’d spend a day a week just reconciling payments, chasing invoices and all this admin, which is time they could either be spending with their families, or making more money.”

Having already raised £10m to build the platform and acquire both Lantum’s main competitor and a leading tax return tool for GPs, the firm is about to raise a further £8m. Presiding over the UK’s largest network of GPs, Morris now wants to replicate that for all other staff types.

“Essentially, lots of our existing clients are saying ‘this is useful for our existing doctors, but can we use it for our nurses, and our pharmacists?’ That is what the money we’re raising is to do.

“We really want it to be the operating system that powers all healthcare organisation staffing in the future.”

*Read more*: We can’t save the NHS until we acknowledge its failing health
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