‘I DON’T see digital transformation as a flash in the pan, a quick fix at a time of crisis. It is fundamental to the mission to clear the Covid backlog, and to the long-term health and happiness of this country. It matters more now than it did when this pandemic began. This is not a time to slow down and look in the rear-view mirror. It’s a time to accelerate.’
The words of Health Secretary Sajid Javid, delivered at the Health Service Journal’s Digital Transformation Summit on February 24.
The British Government appears to harbour a growing distaste for its own people, as if they somehow cannot abide the fact of our being human and that we delight in being in close proximity to each other – human contact not overly compatible with the technological vision of the future they are racing us toward at full whip.
We are fully apprised of how this seeming revulsion at human connectivity has manifested itself over the last two years – masks, isolation, restrictions on movement, ad infinitum: all cruelly divisive – but this campaign of dehumanisation will not end now that we are supposedly living with Covid. In fact, it appears to constitute a huge part of the pandemic exit strategy.
The creation of more virtual wards and ‘hospital at home’ models of care, for example, appears to be a top priority for Johnson’s Government:
‘By December 2023, systems should complete the comprehensive development of virtual wards towards a national ambition of 40 to 50 virtual beds per 100,000 population’ (the Living with Covid Plan).
Marry this with the rapid growth in online health providers and GP services, alongside the Health Secretary’s goal of having 75 per cent of all adults in England fully enrolled on the ever-evolving NHS app by March 2024, and it’s easy to see that quality face-to-face care forms little to no part of the new normal health sector.
Virtual wards will doubtless work wonderfully for some (watch this NHS video to see how the whole system is supposed to work) – mostly those who require non-urgent diagnostic monitoring, and who can therefore remain confidently in the familiar comfort of home rather than in a hospital ward whose overseeing trust forbids or severely restricts visitors, even if one is dying.
Regarding the aforementioned, it is paradoxical that within a hospital setting one may be all but prohibited from receiving triple-jabbed visitors, yet within one’s ‘hospital at home’ one is free to intermingle with as many unvaccinated national security threats as one wishes.
We are told that patient safety and wellbeing lie at the heart of current max-security visitation protocols, but this is clearly not the case (take a look at this Twitter post from Dr Clare Craig which exemplifies what I mean by max-security).
I would wager that these ludicrously inhumane measures are still firmly in place so as to prise open the therefore far more appealing market for digital home-healthcare.
Many of course will slip through the novel cracks of malpractice formed by such remote doctoring: no healthcare system could ever be 100 per cent failsafe.
What we should be most concerned about, however, is the ideological shift that the use of virtual wards and Tamagotchi-GPs represents – the tragic move away from reliance on the intuition, intelligence and acuity of the human senses, and the abrupt pivot towards the lonely mixed-reality of the metaverse.
And as per usual in the new normal, inevitably it will be mostly the elderly and the already vulnerable and socially-isolated at the sharp end of this robotification of our species, just as they have been since March 2020.
For this demographic, being sent home from hospital with a virtual ward package destined to be confusing to set up and maintain is one thing (the kit contains a smart-tablet, multiple wires and chargers, a modem, and wearable health tech), yet it’s quite another to be teased away from the precious human contact the system inadequately replaces.
If the tech-fanaticism of the Health Secretary is anything to go by (not to mention that of his predecessor) then we shall soon witness the normalisation of placing elderly people, already living in near-solitude, on virtual wards, whence they will liaise with Tele-Nurses rather than being exposed to the invaluable tonic of human contact.
For many if not most of these people, frequent visits to the hospital or surgery are indeed an utter nuisance – physically draining and often logistically problematic. Yet from experience, the collective of brief human interactions involved in such excursions – with the taxi or bus driver, an attendant carer or relative, the receptionist, people in the waiting room, the pharmacist, cafe staff, the nurse or doctor etcetera – can transform an irksome chore into an unexpectedly heart-warming and life-affirming experience, discomfort notwithstanding.
Seeing new faces and changes to the local environment; getting fresh air and a modicum of exercise; exchanging smiles and chit-chat with strangers; alongside the solidarity felt from a few tuts and sighs of exasperation in unison with fellow patients and commuters, can be a huge boost to the spirit of someone who spends the bulk of their time alone at home.
My own grandmother left the house for her GP surgery dressed up as if she were going for elevenses with the local fancy-man! It became a social outing of sorts for her, and she made valuable friendships and acquaintances in the village that ordinarily she would not have.
The ‘hospital at home’ model, and Government’s aching obsession with rewiring the healthcare sector to be a hyper-digitalised virtual experience, will result in prolific and obscenely profitable technological advancement, but at the cost of warp-speed human regression.
The Health Secretary’s speech, on the very day the invasion of Ukraine began, concluded: ‘It was a time of adversity – World War 2 – that led to the universal healthcare we now enjoy in this country, and the NHS was created after that, the NHS that we all know and cherish.
‘Let’s make sure that this time of adversity kicks off a new era of digital transformation.’
In last March’s Integrated Review of Security and Defence, Boris Johnson declared: ‘Our aim is to have secured our status as a Science and Tech Superpower by 2030.’
The Consumer Healthcare Association demands: ‘Self-care needs to be embedded into people’s everyday lives so the behaviour continues as we recover from the pandemic and people don’t just go back to doing what they did before.’
The Ministry Of Defence’s ‘think-piece’ on human augmentation warns: ‘Our moral tendencies to look after our kin and immediate future may no longer be fit for the modern, interconnected world.’
It’s not just the elderly and vulnerable: we are all downward-spiralling out of control into the bowels of the WEF’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Did the manufactured pandemic force us beyond the point of no return?