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In search of the Holy Grail

Question: What’s the difference between the Holy Grail, the Loch Ness monster, a perfect health system and Sir Philip Green’s conscience?

Answer: There’s a possibility three of them could exist.

Note the word “could”.

It was with this conjecture that, like some latter day Indiana Jones, chairman and partner of KPMG’s Global Health Practice, Mark Britnell, set out to find the perfect health system. Spoiler alert. He didn’t find it.

The good news is that what he found was the elements that could, possibly, create one. One day.

There are few better qualified than Mark to set out on such a quest. Bar his brief foray into the law, he has been in and around health, man and boy. Leaving the NHS Management Board as director general, he joined KPMG in 2009 and has since set up their hugely successful worldwide practice.

On Tuesday this week, members of the PRCA’s health group were lucky enough to find him in London and happy to share his considerable knowledge and experience in a highly engaging way.

Boy! Has he racked up the air miles in his pursuit of the perfect health system? In the past three weeks alone he has been to the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Hamburg and Frankfurt, some 26,000 miles. Best not mention the carbon footprint, then.

But the result of his hours of bum-numbing travel in planes, trains and automobiles is a book – a collection of his observations about the good, the bad and the ugly bits of other countries’ health systems. As he says, there isn’t a problem he hasn’t heard or seen that doesn’t have a solution that’s been discovered somewhere else.

Mark is a proud champion of the NHS and is very accepting of our cultural attachment to it – but is also under no illusion that an effective universal health system relies on a healthy economy. On that note, he gave a rather gloomy view of the NHS’s finances over the next few years and alluded to a Brexit effect – though sadly time didn’t allow for much discussion on that subject.

From his 200 visits to 63 countries in seven years, it seems that the perfect health system would comprise a melange of good practices, including some rather surprising ones. He cites Israel’s focus on primary care, Brazil’s method of training and engaging communities to help themselves, Australia’s established mental health and well being policy and health promotion in the Nordics where they make a special effort to reach out to workforces in the private sector.

In Africa, innovations are born of necessity having 25% of the world’s disease burden and 4% of the world’s health workforce. R&D in the USA, India’s innovation, flair and speed, tech-savvy Singaporeans’ access to health records, France’s level of choice, Switzerland’s funding at 10.4% of GDP and Japan’s bold approach to old age care would all, in his view, be models from which we could take the learnings.

Understandably, Mark’s views are based on a global perspective – consequently, there are some pretty scary statistics but he was at pains to point out that PR practitioners have a significant role in addressing the big issues we face.

For example, the sustainable development goals published last year call for every country to have universal healthcare by 2030. Currently around 40% of countries have it. So, if we think we have a shortage of doctors and nurses now, imagine what the effect of implementing universal healthcare to another five billion people will have. We need to treasure our talent he says – because everyone will be chasing it.

In a forthcoming report, he also warns of the cost of misaligning the elements that make up a healthcare economy – payors, providers, pharma companies and patients. Currently, around $9 trillion is spent on healthcare globally – and around $1-2 trillion is wasted through misalignment. Extrapolated, the money saved by being more efficient could give everyone in the world another 4 years of life expectancy.

On the subject of PR, Mark is a critical friend. He’s had some great experiences, not least with the production of his book. “When you’re at your best,” he says, “you’re unbeatable. The issue being, you’re not always at your best.” Fair comment.

Mark is a hugely inspiring, entertaining and knowledgeable speaker. The book is a must-read for anyone in the business of health in any capacity and it’s hugely accessible. All the proceeds go to Prostate Cancer UK so order your copy today here.

The holiday season being in full swing, In Search of the Perfect Health System would be the perfect beach read.

On that thought, given the amount of travel he does, where do you think Mark goes in search of his perfect holiday? My money’s on a staycation.

With thanks to our hosts, Instinctif, for their generous hospitality.