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Doctors plan to use exercise data from smartphones to initiate health interventions

By Kath Hudson    11 Mar 2024
The NHS App could be used by doctors to track activity and prescribe exercise / Shutterstock/ImYanis
The UK government has announcement it will invest in its NHS health service app so it can be leveraged for health gains as an exercise tracker
£3.4 billion has been earmarked for NHS technology investment – AI will be used to help medical professionals
No support has been given to local authority leisure or social care
CEO of the Health Foundation, Jennifer Dixon, said: "Good health and a thriving economy are inexorably intertwined. Economic inactivity is weighing down our economic growth, underlining the importance of keeping people well, in addition to treating those who are sick.” She calls for a new approach.

The UK government acknowledged in its recent budget that economic recovery depends on the health of the nation, but failed to find the investment needed to boost the prevention agenda.

In a nod to the physical activity sector, health secretary, Victoria Atkins, announced that the health service would be investing in its NHS app to turn it into an exercise tracker so doctors can make use of the data collected by smartphones. They would then use the NHS app to monitor patients’ step counts and offer therapy.

It's not clear if this idea has been piloted to see how comfortable consumers are with having their steps tracked by their doctor, whether they would welcome therapy when delivered in this way or if it prompts them to uninstall the app.

Over the next three years – should the current government win this year's general election – £3.4 billion will be invested in "modernising the technology of the NHS", which the government says would unlock £35 billion worth of savings. This would be intended to bring about efficiencies for NHS professionals, for example, AI will be used to make notes and fill in forms, while AI-fitted MRI and CT scanners will help doctors read results more quickly and accurately.

CEO of the Health Foundation, Jennifer Dixon, said this NHS investment is welcomed but will be unlikely to significantly reduce waiting lists and noted that social care was not mentioned in the budget, which Martyn Allison argues is key to the success of public sector leisure, given the great strain it's under.

The UK is also the only G7 economy that hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels and the proportion of working-age people who are unable to work due to ill health is both increasing and causing an economic drag. According to Statista, 2.8 million British people were not working due to long-term sickness in November 2023, up from 1.97 million in 2019.

“Good health and a thriving economy are inexorably intertwined, as shown by persistently higher levels of economic inactivity driven by worse working-age health,” said Dixon. “As the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has pointed out, economic inactivity is currently weighing down our economic growth, with labour force participation projected to fall over the parliament. This underlines the importance of keeping people well, in addition to treating those who are sick.”

Dixon points out that other public services are likely to take a substantial hit following the budget, since the OBR stated that unprotected departments will receive a 2.3 per cent a year real-terms cut in funding from 2025/26.

“This will leave the wider public services that support good health, including local government, under significant pressure,” she said. “With more people than ever out of the workforce due to ill health, it's time for a new approach that prioritises the long-term health and prosperity of the nation.”

Chair of the Local Government Association, Cllr Shaun Davies, also lamented the failure to adequately fund local services, saying: “It's disappointing that the government has not announced measures to adequately fund the local services people rely on every day.

“Councils continue to transform services but, given that core spending power in 2024/25 has been cut by 23.3 per cent in real terms compared to 2010/11, it's unsustainable to expect them to keep doing more for less in the face of unprecedented cost and demand pressures.”

The subject of getting people fit for work is being debated in the upcoming issue of HCM: sign up here for your free digital subscription.

Spring budget  NHS  AI  Victoria Atkins  Jennifer Dixon  Health Foundation  Shaun Davies  Local Government Association 
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