Are disruptive trends the key to improving the health of the population?

Are disruptive trends the key to improving the health of the population?

Russell Jones, Analyst at PPL, reflects on the discussions at a recent Young Management Consultancies Association (MCA) event Disrupting Trends. What are the changing environmental, economic and social factors that drive the way we live and work today and in the future? What does that mean for the health and social care sector? And are there specific lessons in relation to the Sustainability Transformation Planning (STP) process currently underway across the country?


If someone were to ask you what digital dementia support, governance, and climate change have in common, the answer may not be immediately obvious. All three, however, are direct effects of, and affect the impact of, disruptive trends. These trends, unprecedented social and economic shifts, are changing the world in which we live and work.

A recent event by the Young MCA explored how we can work with our clients to harness these trends as drivers for good. During the event, four key trends were unpicked: changing demographics, urbanization, economic power and climate change. Each of these have different implications for health and wellbeing, and for health and social care leaders driving strategic change, not least in the current Sustainability and Transformation Planning (STP) process that is currently underway across the country to help drive genuine and sustainable transformation in patient experience and health outcomes for the longer-term:

1.      Demographics – ‘A cure for aging? How digital can help diffuse the demographic time bomb’

From pioneering Dementia support robots, to growing use of robotic technology in surgery; digital innovation is taking an increasingly prominent role in health and social care. While these technologies are unlikely to address all the challenges of a growing aging population, they do offer exciting possibilities in areas such as prevention, diagnostics, social care, and healthcare.

Cutting across these areas, digital technology has significant potential for supporting independence. In Japan, for instance, a robot called Sota is currently being used to support dementia patients to live at home for longer. Amongst other things, Sota diffuses the smell of food at meal times to remind patients to eat and, linked to wearable sensors and air conditioning, is able to adjust temperature or get appropriate medical support to keep the patient safe at home. This type of digital intervention, if scaled, offers the opportunity to reduce demand for social care, and the chance to effectively manage risk to reduce likelihood of costly unplanned hospital admissions. While not a panacea for all of the challenges ahead,  investment in effective digital care is likely to significant financial dividends – a key priority for many STP footprints (please see the recent blog on Care City, one of the national Innovation Test Beds, for more info on how digital innovation is currently being implemented in the UK).

2.      Urbanisation – ‘A market growth or blocker?’

Over the last 50 years cities around the world have grown significantly – 55% of the global population now live in urban areas and this is set to increase[i]. This shift poses questions about how to best reconfigure services to meet the differing and evolving needs of expanding urban and shrinking rural populations. The development of STPs offers a unique opportunity to address these shifting needs with bespoke locally led solutions. As Simon Stevens set out earlier in the year, the STP process is inherently a problem solving exercise and one in which NHS England has given leaders license to creatively develop local solutions to local problems. The nature of these problems will inherently differ in urban and rural settings due to the differences in geography, population density and infrastructure. Moreover, as five year plans, STP leaders necessarily have to anticipate and address the impact of short and medium term trends.

3.      Economic Power– ‘How to effectively implement strategy in a constantly changing world’  

What makes a strategy effective and how can it be translated from buzzwords and plans into tangible change? This is perhaps the most fundamental challenge for health and care leaders. It requires entrepreneurial flair and abilities to harness resources outside your own direct control, to work in concerted ways towards a common goal. There are lessons to learn from city planning: The most successful cities have been able to adapt and transform themselves through visionary local leadership, linked to key enablers such as infrastructure, governance, human and cultural capital. PPL are supporting clients across the country to develop effective enablers in their systems and to design robust roadmaps for change to realise the benefits of remodeled prevention oriented systems.

4.      Climate Change – ‘Climate Change: why sustainability is more than just CSR’

To support the shift to prevention, health and care leaders are exploring how to tackle the wider determinants of health; including climate change. Air pollution caused by climate change, for example, increases levels of respiratory and cardiovascular disease i. Similarly, increased likelihood of extreme weather must now be taken into account in service planning. Leaders, however, cannot be solely reactive to climate change; and instead must take practical and strategic actions to tackle it at all levels of system. STP implementation has the potential to form the platform upon which areas can address the wider challenge of climate change and improve services for citizens. Considering the environmental impact of estates strategy, for instance, offers a chance for system leaders to contribute to environmental improvement while ensuring health and care facilities are fit for the future.

Key Takeaway: To chart a path for sustainable change and transformation, health and care leaders must think strategically about how to respond to the challenges – and harness the opportunities – presented by, disruptive trends.