With the NHS turning 70, it’s natural that people’s minds turn to the past, harking back to the days before health care was free at the point of use, back to the first days of NHS rollout and the myriad twists and turns that brought us to the UK’s largest employer in 2018.
We’re a curious bunch at Kaleidoscope, and all this talk of the past naturally turned our thoughts to the opposite: the future of health and care.
Last year we ran Writing the Future, the world’s largest health science fiction writing prize. We asked authors far and wide to consider health in the UK in 2100; what wild and wonderful tech would be in use, what kind of society we’d be living in and whether anything of the NHS would be left at all.
In 2017 we wondered whether science-fiction writers could help us reimagine the future of health and healthcare. Some 400,000 words, 145 entries, and 6 shortlisted stories later, not to mention coverage in the Guardian, serialisation in the BMJ, and sold-out events at the House of St Barnabas and the Old Operating Theatre, we’re relatively content that our Writing the Future prize has sparked more than a couple of new conversations and perspectives as to where we’re headed.
So, what comes next? Well, we’re keen to keep the conversations that started in 2017 continuing into 2018, and are looking for organisations to partner with us to help make that happen.
He stands up and walks around his desk, placing a sweaty hand on my lower back as he opens the office door to indicate it is time to go. “The Oracle represents the most sophisticated healthcare algorithm ever created. Trust Her.”
We’re stood in the gallery of the 19th century Old Operating Theatre, as medical students would have done to watch their tutors at work. This is the oldest surgical theatre in Europe, in use before the birth of modern medicine. No germ theory of disease, no anaesthesia and an epistemology based around the four humours meant this was a room more used to torture than cure. Bloodletting, lancing boils and amputation the surgeon’s art.
It seems to me the Writing the Future science fiction prize, and the beautiful, eerie stories, mess with our minds because they say ambiguous things about the gap between the present and the future.
Is this gap vast, with futures yet untold unfolding in unpredictable directions? Or is this gap porous, and shrinking? Are the seeds of these unsettling futures already contained in our present? I want to think about this gap, about this distance for a bit, at the same time far removed and uncomfortably close.
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs
In September I was invited to present at NHS Expo on what health and care may look like over the next 70 years, and the leadership challenges we face as a result. At the same I was privileged enough to be reading Kaleidoscope’s Writing the Future sci-fi short stories about health and healthcare in 2100. I was struck by the possibilities for the future we could face.
Having been part of the panel judging the splendid recent Writing the Future competition, I've been asked to pen a few words about the writer's job; specifically how the world 'out there' gets filtered through the writer's imagination so that it arrives 'down there' on the page.
Life is messy and inchoate. We writers are mining it for truth. Disobligingly it refuses to manifest itself in convenient five act structures for us simply to copy down.
Writing the Future is a vanity exercise. A piece of ephemera only of interest to the eccentric, whimsical, or those with far too much time on their hands.
I don’t agree; and having come up with the idea originally, I’m not sure you’d expect me to. But amid mounting pressures today, why on earth have we tied £10,000 to a literature prize about an era when almost all of you reading this will be dead? Why should you care? Here are three reasons.