The NHS will be changed by this pandemic, and what emerges may not be defined as ‘post-Covid’, but instead a ‘Covid co-existence’.
Long-term co-existence with Covid-19 may not sound aspirational, but it does offer a unique opportunity to turn a rapid-response to an evolving situation into concrete change that improves the for years to come. Changes that have taken place overnight: digital innovation; cooperation between the private sector and the NHS; between competing pharmaceutical companies; between business and Government, might well become permanent features of the way our health service operates.
Despite isolation, distancing, and separation defining the lives of individuals throughout the pandemic, it is collaboration that could be the legacy of Covid-19.
Companies that successfully navigate the crisis will be those with a clear idea of the problems faced by the NHS and Government, of how to fix them and the contribution they can make to help put things right.
These companies have an important role to play and consequently will have the opportunity to develop a compelling narrative about how they have helped to connect individuals with key services – through adaptive manufacturing, enhanced supply chains, or directly in the form of healthcare provision. More than ever before organisations need to articulate their individual value alongside their connected value; demonstrated in increasingly unexpected and innovative ways.
It is the partnership between the NHS and the public – its users – that could prove to be the most compelling.
This pandemic has made us all more aware of our own health and may lead not only to greater funding for population healthcare, but to individuals taking a greater interest and responsibility for their own health.
At some point, when things return to a new normality, looking after ourselves better could become the best way of showing our appreciation for our carers – a manifestation of all the applause on our doorsteps, by reducing our reliance for healthcare that results from preventative conditions, accelerated by unhealthy habits, diet and lifestyle choices.
The challenge for public health bodies will be to strike the right balance between coercion and education and ensuring that the spirit of collaboration is felt by the public. Portland’s own polling found that four in ten people (42%) believed that ‘people not doing enough to stay well to avoid needing the NHS’ – this could be a recurrent issue in managing a future health crisis, such as Covid-19.
Collaboration has also been highly visible within the NHS itself, to the extent that the crisis may have finally been the death knell for decentralisation within the health service. Covid-19 has exposed the NHS’ surplus of moving parts and lack of integration, hopefully accelerating the move to integrated care in the process. A radical reappraisal of what social care systems can deliver, with potentially difficult political ramifications for certain populations, could in turn be expected.
In some areas, division may continue to shape intractable views that pre-date Covid-19.
While admiration for NHS staff is at an all-time high and has helped to unite the nation during the pandemic, Portland’s polling has found that even with NHS backing – and with almost 30% of UK-based doctors identifying as a non-British nationality in 2019 –only 39% of people would support ‘increasing immigration to hire more healthcare staff’. More than a quarter of those polled (28%) were opposed.
The Covid-19 outbreak has been a catalyst for knee-jerk nationalist rhetoric and responses in several countries: for example, through restrictions on the exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) and drug supplies, and political leaders vying to give ‘their people’ access to a vaccine that doesn’t yet exist. While this nationalism can be disheartening, it is unlikely to last long, as countries find themselves having to work together to re-build health services and economies, (hopefully) learning lessons that prepare the world for such an event in the future.
Last week we remembered the 75th Anniversary of the end of war in Europe. Despite the parallels being made between the pandemic and a British ‘Blitz Spirit’, there will be no treaty to mark the end of this crisis. Instead, we will move into a new period of ‘Covid co-existence’. Those who have already exhibited a willingness to form new partnerships, acted with a degree of altruism, and communicated how they stepped-up in a time of crisis, will be the ones that get to define this new landscape.