Opinion: NHS as a Serious Investment Player, Backing Femtech and Female Founders | Katherine Church
Digital Transformation Specialist and former Chief Digital Officer of Surrey Heartlands ICS Katherine Church leads a much-needed discussion about the NHS, femtech and female founders
If any organisation on the planet should be focused on women, and how we design, consume and deliver digital care and Healthtech, it is the NHS.
The appointment of Dame Lesley Regan as England’s New Women’s Health Ambassador and the imminent publication of the Women’s Health Strategy should mean some open and wide conversations about the role of women in our health economy, and how the NHS determines what and how it moves to better meet the needs of women in the UK.
"[Women] suffer disproportionate harm from the world around us, which is designed by men for men. For example, women have a 72% higher chance of catastrophic injury in a car accident than men due to gender neutral (male) design."
I have a hypothesis, I would like to test and some open questions to further this important conversation.
Here is how my hypothesis builds:
The NHS is predominantly female. 77% of employees are female and it has many more female customers because we make up more than 50% of the population. In addition, we have specific health needs over and above those of men - complex reproduction, childbirth and the menopause being examples. We also suffer disproportionate harm from the world around us, which is designed by men for men. For example, women have a 72% higher chance of catastrophic injury in a car accident than men due to gender neutral (male) design.
The factors above mean that, as such, our needs should be overrepresented in the design of health services. The opposite is true as in healthtech, as most other tech, founders and funders tend to be male, who design at best in a gender-neutral manner and at worst in a male centric paradigm.
"The world of investment and VC is inherently sexist - women get funded less and it is MUCH harder to get funded."
The NHS is the biggest single investor in tech with digital at the very heart of its transformation strategy. Bizarrely, the Women’s Health Vision and response to the consultation makes scant reference to any kind of digital technology, although the commitment to gathering gender specific data in research is a good start to making Women Visible (nod to Caroline Criado Perez and 'Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men').
The NHS already has the infrastructure(s) for innovation through national thematic programmes (AI, remote monitoring, condition specific), the 15 AHSNs, marvellous Innovation hubs like Claire Liddy’s at Alder Hay Hospital and NHSE regional and ICS structures.
"So what is missing to enable the NHS to be the operational vehicle for an ambitious, entrepreneurial UK government to really turn the dial and back female founded firms?"
The world of investment and VC is inherently sexist - women get funded less and it is MUCH harder to get funded. If you look up the valuation chain the big money is rarely in female led businesses. As everywhere else, female representation dwindles to a few notable successes who stand out for being women. Despite this, there is a rich ground roots ecosystem of female founders, femtech incubators, accelerators and support. This is fertile ground to plough.
Women design better products than men (that is my firmly held and subjective belief). Ask a tech bro why they founded their firm and their story will be personal, “My mum had a heart attack so I thought I’d solve heart disease”. Ask a woman and they will describe a situation and how they designed a product to solve the problem in its context and for the range of people involved in it. We just think more inclusively.
The NHS has the need, the means and the opportunity. The talent is there. So what is missing to enable the NHS to be the operational vehicle for an ambitious, entrepreneurial UK government to really turn the dial and back female founded firms?
Two things spring to mind:
1. A clear line of sight between pilot and procurement. The digital landscape is littered with the corpses of abandoned pilots, as the route from pilot to procurement to scaling is so difficult.
2. Policy. As we await the publication of the UK Women’s strategy, this could be just the time to purposefully and deliberately put female founders and the tech we design for ourselves and the world we live at centre stage.
What do you think?
Genevieve Shaw, Editor