Future of medicine is perfect breeding ground for innovation
Nigel Walsh, Ulster Bank director of commercial banking, looks at the challenges and opportunities ahead in the health sector
The healthcare sector is a vibrant and important part of the Northern Ireland economy. With practitioners in diverse areas such as physiotherapy, dentistry, pharmaceuticals and care for the elderly, it plays a significant role in all of our lives - either directly, or for those we care about. As a bank that is deeply involved in the communities in which we operate, we at Ulster Bank have made it our business to provide dedicated support for the sector.
Like banking, healthcare companies are facing a significant amount of disruptive innovation. This makes it an exciting sector to be involved with. Many smartphones have the ability to measure and record things such as activity levels, blood sugar and help us plan our diet - individuals are becoming much more active consumers of their own health (as evidenced by the number of fitbits and wristbands I see being worn) and this has implications for the traditional health 'gatekeepers'.
As such, providers face many varied challenges - ranging from cost-pressure around staffing, to the pace of this technological change.
This means that healthcare experiences higher-than-normal levels of inflation. Additionally, individuals can feel that barriers have broken down with their healthcare providers - making them more demanding about the range and levels of service that they see as the new normal. But there are many opportunities as well. According to a recent healthcare report by Deloitte, around one in five people in Western Europe will be over 65 by 2019. What does an economy that serves those people look like? What kind of businesses that don't exist today are going to meet their needs?
These demographic pressures, and the new expectations people have of healthcare providers, mean the broader health sector is a perfect breeding ground for resilient, innovative new businesses, and we at Ulster Bank are there to support them in their plans for sustainable growth. As growth in government budgets remains muted, companies that can either perform specialised work for the health services, or deliver a more cost-effective model, are particularly well-placed for future success.
In a fast-moving environment such as this, building trust between patients, customers and caregivers will be an important part of maintaining high standards and loyalty. As a bank, we know how important that is - being number one for trust is at the core of our ambition for customers, because we believe it is the essential ingredient for all business relationships; making it easier to cope with change and tackle the unexpected.
This year, we are proud to support the British Dental Association's programme of events and were delighted to be guests at the inauguration of their new president, Anne Stevens. We also sponsored the Young Pharmacist of the Year category at the 2016 Pharmacy in Focus awards.
On both occasions, I was fortunate to speak to a large number of people who had put time, effort and energy into building committed customer relationships in the healthcare sector.
I see first-hand the work of companies like Galgorm Dental, with its high-quality brand and location, or Total Mobile, with innovative technology that saves nurses time and money, and I am confident Northern Ireland has a healthy pipeline of good news in this sector.
The services sector is the largest part of Northern Ireland's private sector and we believe the businesses performing this kind of vital work deserve a banking partner that works hard to understand them and give them help for what matters.