The NHS in England could save than £4.4 billion a year if it involves patients, their families and communities in the proven management of long-term health conditions. 

This is according to new findings from the two-year ‘People Powered Health’ programme by led by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation.

The People Powered Health programme looked at innovations that have been developed over a number of years – from peer support networks and patient groups, to doctors prescribing exercise to group consultations.

Currently, a third of the UK population currently lives with a long term condition, like diabetes, heart disease or mental health problems, and is estimated to account for half of GP appointments, and two-thirds of outpatient appointments. 

In the ‘People Powered Health: health for people, by people, with people’ report published this week, Nesta and the Innovation Unit argue for widespread changes to the way that patients are involved in shaping their own care and the services that are commissioned to support them. 

If the changes envisaged were to be applied across relevant healthcare services, Nesta believes the resulting impact on demand could produce savings of 7% of the Clinical Commissioning Budget a year, equating to £4.4 billion across England. 

If this is achievable, it would go a long way to helping the NHS save its obligatory £5 billion per year under the QIPP programme.

Opportunity amid reform 

At a time of change for health services in England - as the NHS reform takes hold this month and GPs are put in charge of the NHS budget - the report argues that there is “an unparalleled opportunity” to implement this approach to managing long-term health conditions at scale.

In a second report, also published this week, called ‘The business case for People Powered Health’, Nesta describes the specific investments required to create services with a People Powered Health approach based on a literature review of studies.

Halima Khan, director of Nesta’s Public Services Lab, explains: “The People Powered Health approach holds the key to the long term financial sustainability of the health system – the potential cost savings are very significant and could have a major impact on the quality of life for people with long-term conditions. 

“This approach challenges the traditional roles of patients and professionals so that people are supported to take more control of their own health. Ultimately, people do more with and for each other and with health services to stop being about institutions and focus on individuals and communities.”

Over the next few weeks, Nesta says it will be publishing a series of guides for practitioners on how to implement the People Powered Health approach.

This will include how GPs can use social prescribing to get patients engaged in exercise and reduce isolation, and the role of peer support to help people living with long term health conditions.