Testing the temperature at Health+Care 2019

To my eyes, this year’s Health+Care was as huge an event as ever – but was I alone in thinking that the healthcare section was a bit smaller than in previous years, and that the residential and home care section was a bit bigger? If I’m right, then perhaps it’s analogous of the way things are going in our society which is to say there’s a massive focus on looking after older people.

In the Healthcare Show, the rise and rise of primary care networks was palpable as were the themes of population health management, multidisciplinary teams, the workforce crisis – and how technology is going to make it all work better. But, I definitely noticed fewer big, statement pharma stands.

Speaking to a totally unrepresentative cohort of exhibitors and visitors, the mood was generally quite upbeat – as upbeat as you’ll ever get in that energy-sapping environment. Given this forum largely reflects the sometimes uneasy alliance between NHS England and its providers, there were the usual moans about money and lack of interoperability of systems. But, the Long Term Plan did indeed seem to have some momentum and there was sense that things were getting done – and, get this, actually appearing to be working. Whisper it but integrated care provision might actually be the future.

Green Paper, brown Labrador

Things in the home / residential care area however were a bit different. While there is no shortage of providers of kit – hoists, baths, food, mobility sensors and the like, the elephant in the care home’s day room is the social care Green Paper – or rather the lack of it. A fact that Care Minister, Caroline Dineage’s audience let her know in no uncertain terms: “I share your frustration at the delay to the Green Paper” she almost convincingly told us. This was met with that curiously British sound of harrumphing, bottom shifting and tut-tutting. There was even a loud heckle. “It’s two years late!” shrieked someone from the gloom. But Ms Dineage was already too engrossed in telling us how in real terms, spending was up blah-blah.

It was the first time I’d seen Ms Dineage in action and honestly, I’m not sure she cuts the right figure for a Minister of Care. She’s a good speaker and very human – but, I suggest, a bit too groomed? A classic trope of politicians is to bring in actual characters to illustrate their point. We were introduced to Jackie and Kingston – the latter was a brown Labrador assistance dog who, by the sound of him, could quite easily run the entire social care system single-pawed when not helping Jackie. There was Debs. And Jacob. And Pepper, the humanoid robot. All illustrating how personal health plans and transformative technology were helping a lucky few. But, she seemed to forget this was an audience made up of care professionals and clinicians. They really don’t need that kind of Andrex puppy pathos.

Panel beater

From a professional communicator’s point of view, it’s astonishing how many organisations can’t explain what they do in simple terms in their point of sale material. And, I lost count of the number of tech “solutions” I saw, but am sure that there will be enough problems that need solving for some time yet.

That aside, shows like Health+Care are important. It’s useful to see what’s out there and interesting to gauge the mood of the thousands of people who rely on the health and care sectors for a livelihood. What I like about H+C is that it’s unapologetically a trade show with a few conference bits on the side. And very well organised.

One plea however to H+C and the many other shows of its ilk: Could we review the concept of the panel discussion? Four and sometimes five people on stage, all mic’d up like Britney Spears, is a highly unsatisfactory format for everyone. Panellists don’t get long enough. We the audience don’t get enough detail. And, the chair, usually at least as knowledgeable as the speakers, could be used to better effect. Let’s limit the number of panellists, allow more in-depth conversations and get more time for lots of questions. Please.

Angus Wrixon is a director at Salix & Co