Horizon scanning has been given various definitions over the years. It has been described as “the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments”.
Providing more detail, the UK Cabinet Office has said that horizon scanning is “not about making predictions, but systematically investigating evidence about future trends. Horizon scanning helps the government to analyse whether it is adequately prepared for potential opportunities and threats. This helps ensure that policies are resilient to different future environments”.
Horizon scanning is not, therefore, about predicting the future, but instead about keeping a lookout for the weak initial signals of potential change – and acting accordingly.
What horizon scanning means for the NHS
Horizon scanning offers important benefits to the National Health Service (NHS), enabling Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to stay ahead of the curve, enhancing their awareness of emerging treatments and technologies, to be better prepared for when they arise. It is an ongoing initiative that allows CCGs to effectively prioritise what can be adopted, and plan how this will financially impact the CCG.
Horizon scanning is not a one-off process, but instead an ongoing one, helping shed light on the latest medicines or technologies that could affect the CCG’s financial position. This allows CCG finance departments to forecast their budget and feed strategically into the CCG’s overall business plan.
Horizon scanning for medicines, for example, doesn’t just allow for financial pressures to be anticipated and budgets to be better managed. That’s because it can also be instrumental in the planning of services and even identifying areas for disinvestment, in the event that a new treatment means certain existing services are no longer required.
Senior consultants and pharmacists also collaborate in horizon scanning, as their exposure and expertise means they’re well-placed to identify the emerging treatments that would most benefit their local population.
The importance of effective horizon scanning to the NHS therefore cannot be overstated. It is imperative for increasing the health service’s understanding of products that are likely to become available for routine commissioning. As well as helping to indicate such products’ likely impact on patients, services and budgets. It also gives an indication about the future commercial environment, thereby enabling the NHS to respond in line with evolving markets.
What horizon scanning resources are available to the health service?
Horizon scanning services that the NHS has been able to take advantage of in recent years include the likes of the National Institute for Health Research Horizon Scanning Research and Intelligence Centre (NIHR HSRIC) and the Specialist Pharmacy Service Horizon Scanning Service.
Such resources help to ensure horizon scanning remains a key weapon for providers and commissioners, as they look to proactively implement the management strategies that most benefit NHS budgets, services, patients and staff.
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