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Computer models could help NHS save £20bn

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By Crispin Dowler

Originally published in the Health Services Journal 17 December 2010

The NHS could use computer simulations to help find £20bn savings needed by April 2015.

A letter in this week’s HSJ, signed by 29 academics from 17 institutions, says the techniques could help the service avoid “slash and burn” tactics.

They call for a new national institute for health system and service excellence, parallel to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to champion modelling methods, pool evidence and spread best practice.

Professor Terry Young, chair of healthcare systems at Brunel University, told HSJ a broad spectrum of techniques are used in other sectors to model the impact of efficiencies in a risk free environment.

“If something goes wrong [in a simulation] no one’s life is at risk, no one’s budget is overspent, and you can probably do in an afternoon what would take you a year to try to work out in practice,” he said.

Asked if simulations and modelling could deliver the 20-25 per cent savings the NHS is estimated to need, he said: “If you look at the efficiency gains in industry over the last quarter of the last century - which were from a combination of process change and greater computerisation and computer-aided management of processes - the gains were at that scale or more.”

Professor James Barlow, chair in technology and innovation management at Imperial College London, said NHS organisations had tended to pilot planned changes.

“That doesn’t necessarily give you good feedback on real-life problems, where probably resources are more constrained,” he said.

The group, under the name of the Cumberland Initiative, plans to develop a “coherent response” to systems change in the NHS.

NHS Southampton City locality commissioning director David Paynton said: “I can’t see us putting in place the huge changes we are going to need to make without some attempt to see what the implications are across the system.”

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