Healthcare is a human right and one which we are lucky to have provided for us by the state in the UK.
While privatised healthcare systems are rarer than proponents on the other side of the Atlantic might have you think, there are still major threats to the sanctity of the NHS at present – not to mention the delicate healthcare research ecosystem of the UK.
Consistent administrative failures, doubled by consistent government failures to maintain proper funding, have enabled NHS care standards to fall in many areas. Meanwhile, the UK’s departure from the European Union has hampered the UK’s standing internationally with regard to medical research and healthcare innovation. But outside of these geopolitical issues stands a much more fundamental concern, which could rock the global healthcare community: the ethics of new health technology.
Healthcare Innovation and Advancement
Technological innovations are at the heart of healthcare as a discipline, where the advancement of treatments and the development of bespoke medical technologies have improved outcomes on practically every front. Iteration of mechanised surgical tools has improved precision, accuracy, speed and comfort for patients while enabling hitherto impossible forms of surgery to fix the most complex of issues. Diagnostic technologies have dramatically improved the speed and accuracy of diagnoses while drug-synthesising equipment has expanded the reach of medication to unfathomable levels.
Technology and Ethical Dilemmas
Ethical considerations in relation to the expansion of medical technology have always been central, but never overmuch a concern; this is because most ethical considerations related instead to the form in which medical trials would impact human lives. However, as technological innovation enters a new, AI-influenced age, concerns relating to such developments in life sciences have compounded.
The use of AI in healthcare itself is a potential minefield, ethically speaking. Not only are there serious questions about the ways in which AI algorithms reach key conclusions (the ‘black box’ quandary) but there are also concerns about how to apportion responsibility for potential mistakes made by AI. This is to say nothing of the private data required by AI systems to work in primary care scenarios.
These are the immediate ethical issues facing healthcare today, but they also only scratch the surface; as our understanding of genetics accelerates, gene editing is set to become the next platform for major scientific breakthroughs – bringing with it key concerns about what it means to edit a life.
Equity and Access in Healthcare Solutions
These ethical concerns are major enough that independent organisations are already convening to discuss frameworks for future developments – but the remit for these discussions must necessarily extend beyond simple fearmongering regarding the potential of certain technologies. In other cases, radical transformation of healthcare innovation is nothing short of necessary, in order to improve access to healthcare on both sides of the coin: as a patient and as a practitioner.