Dramatic developments taking place in medicine, education and other sectors will radically change opportunities to create income and employment on the Isle of Man and at the same time greatly improve the quality of health services available on Island.
Living on an island has many advantages, neither understood nor appreciated by those neighbours who prefer a more hectic, less community-based, lifestyle. Nevertheless, our response when asked if we feel cut off from the UK, “No, but do you feel cut off from us?” is somewhat hollow because it is true that isolation has always been a major negative when considering the Isle of Man as a place to live and work.
Access to top quality medical services is inevitably a problem for an insular community of less than 90,000. Ambitious staff require the variety and learning opportunities available only in large medical facilities with university ties. Also, the escalating cost of medical equipment makes it unfeasible to provide the entire range at Nobles Hospital. Therefore, the skills acquired from undertaking similar operations daily cannot be achieved without the scale available at leading centres dealing with thousands of cases. A medic on the Isle of Man may encounter only a small number of cases in each category during a lifetime of practice so cannot hope to be as experienced, no matter how talented. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the Island does have some excellent staff who have been attracted by family connections or the high quality of life on the Island.
Arguably, the Isle of Man is the World’s best location, in terms of its quality of life, as a place to live and, in terms of its commercial environment, as a place to conduct business. Optimism for the future stems from considering the strategic changes that are now occurring globally in the provision of medical, academic, manufacturing, retail and other services. The latest data from the UK's ONS show that over 10% of total retail spending is now online, an increase over the year of over 19%, part of an inexorable worldwide trend. We are all aware of this development and appreciate that online shopping provides a welcome opportunity to compare products, read reviews and purchase the best available, all from the comfort of our homes in the Isle of Man. This is now a matter of everyday life, it is taken for granted yet would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. It is in this context that we should look at the next phase of the development of the internet and the opportunities that are available for the Isle of Man; we may not believe it, but dramatic changes are taking place now.
Telemedicine enables the early diagnosis of ailments, monitoring of patients and even the undertaking of major procedures remotely. Intelligent robots are already being used to undertake complex procedures, equipment is becoming increasingly sophisticated, machines have the advantage of not being constrained by employment laws and are less prone to fatigue and mistakes than human counterparts.The implications are enormous for all parties. Medics will also have a great opportunity to participate in the world medical community, be more closely involved with developments and will not suffer from isolation from their peers. Government’s burgeoning health costs can be managed by providing first class emergency services supported by enabling access to internet connections to centres of excellence worldwide. This cost-saving measure has the unusual advantage of conferring benefits on the user; Manx patients will benefit as they will be diagnosed and treated by specialists dealing in similar cases every day.
Similar arguments can be used for education and other services. Statistics show a significant rise in numbers studying online and there is evidence that the more individual approach enabled by online tuition engenders increased interest and success rates. As with the medical example, the benefits accruing to the consumer are considerable and matched by cost savings to Government as a provider of the services.
A great opportunity exists for the Isle of Man to benefit from these strategic changes, not only as a consumer but also as a supplier of these services. The recent Manx Biomed conference held on the Isle of Man in December 2013, gave a clear indication that the Island is a superb location for the development of the biomedical sector. A key attribute for the Isle of Man is the excellent infrastructure for “Big Data” that has been developed to serve the e-gaming sector’s demands for resilience, security and capacity. Medical devices is another area in which the Isle of Man is well-positioned to grow. Already we have companies such as Bodystat leading the way and our first-class manufacturing base (which includes world leading companies such as Swagelok, RLC and GE) provides a great infrastructure and cluster of expertise that could diversify into medical devices.
Combine these attributes with the Island’s appetite to develop itself as an International Business Centre, the benign fiscal environment and the cluster of existing entities and industry influencers involved with this sector and we have all the ingredients for success. We will fail only if we listen to the siren voices of those who have vested interests elsewhere, those who are complacent or those who lack the energy and vision to implement these golden opportunities. If we are to succeed it is essential that the Council of Ministers recognises this potential and drives the implementation of this strategy forcefully.
Finally, for those who doubt the potential of telemedicine it is worth noting that it is already working successfully on the Isle of Man. For example, working from her office in Port Erin, a specialist radiologist provides expert advice on a daily basis to clients in Stockholm.