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Tom Keith-Roach

President, AstraZeneca UK

Transforming population health and reducing inequalities are critical for the long term survival of the NHS. Recent experiences have shown how collaborations can catalyse innovation and fundamentally change outcomes.

The NHS has been a fundamental pillar of UK society since its inception and the dedication of NHS staff is a source of national pride. Nevertheless, health outcomes in the UK have lagged behind other Western nations in many areas and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The service is facing the largest back-log in its history and an oncoming landslide of chronic disease in the wake of delayed diagnoses and reduced access. For example, the pandemic has seen the highest cardiovascular mortality in a decade and it is estimated that 23,000 diagnoses of heart failure were missed.1

Partnering for early intervention

AstraZeneca has taken steps in partnership to begin addressing this impact. Project OPERA is a diagnostic and prevention partnership programme between the NHS in Glasgow and AstraZeneca to accelerate heart failure diagnosis and adherence to effective and timely patient management. The initiative uses handheld devices in addition to smart patient management, and has already reduced waiting lists for echocardiograms (which is required for a diagnosis of heart failure) from 12 months to 12 weeks. We hope to see further transferable learnings from the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the programme. 

We’re working together on OPERA as part of AstraZeneca’s Medical Missions, which include eradicating unplanned hospital admissions for heart failure. We’re particularly targeting our Medical Mission work to areas of high need, tackling health inequalities that undermine the essence of the NHS.

We launched the SENTINEL project in Hull where people with asthma were some of the highest users of rescue inhalers in the country. Practice there has now changed and use of rescue inhalers has gone from being one of the highest to one of the lowest. The change will improve asthma outcomes and is also significantly reducing carbon footprint. 

Partnerships like this demonstrate how together we can identify new approaches to important challenges. It’s vital these learnings are shared across the NHS so they can be scaled up to improve health at the population level and free up much-needed resources elsewhere. 

It’s vital these learnings are shared across the NHS so they can be scaled up to improve health at the population level and free up much-needed resources elsewhere.

Societal health change starts now

Before the pandemic the NHS’s own Long Term Plan recognised the urgency of dealing with the growing burden of chronic diseases. This is even more critical at a time where unplanned admissions from such diseases take resource that could otherwise be used to clear the COVID backlog. Caring for patients with chronic diseases poses a significant finance and resource burden to the NHS, accounting for 70% of NHS acute and primary care expenditure and 70% of bed days in England.2 Slowing or stopping disease progression through earlier patient diagnosis and proactive risk management would help to address this challenge by reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death. 

We believe that we can support our NHS not only to recover from the pandemic but to “build back better”, partnering as the NHS and others did in the pandemic with a bold approach to innovative new ways of working. We want to work together, as we have done in OPERA and SENTINEL, to accelerate the early detection of chronic disease and ensure swift implementation of evidence-based care. Doing so will deliver for all patients and ensure a sustainable service worthy of national pride well into the future.

GB-34835 | Date of preparation: March 2022

[1] https://www.ippr.org/files/2021-03/state-of-health-and-care-mar21.pdf 
[2] NHS. House of Care – a framework for long term condition care. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/clinical-policy/ltc/house-of-care/. Accessed March 2022.

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