Unprecedented. Strange. Uncertain. Unparalleled. We’ve all gotten pretty used to these adjectives when trying to describe life in 2020 and the issues affecting the NHS
Covid 19 has touched every aspect of our lives; from how we do the weekly shop, to how we work and even how we interact with those closest to us. However, for the tireless medical professionals working with our NHS, the pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime event: an event that will have long-lasting and deep rooted repercussions for all of us.
These long-term effects stem from the herculean effort in fighting Covid 19; in particular, the fastest and most far reaching repurposing of NHS services, staffing and capacity in their 72-year history. This has included staffing numbers being boosted by over 10,000 returning health professionals, 27,000 student nurses, doctors and other health professionals starting their NHS careers early and 607,000 NHS volunteers; not to mention the work of partners in local government, social care, the military, the voluntary sector, hospices and the private sector.
This approach – along with the public obeying Government guidance on social distancing and lockdown measures – has meant we’re now beginning to turn the tide; with infection rates and deaths beginning to slow. However, Covid 19 is not going anywhere: it’s here for the long term, and this is going to have a drastic effect on the future of healthcare here in the UK, and the rest of the world.
Navigating the road to recovery
With infections passing their peak and being driven down, the NHS will now be looking to resume and re-focus on ‘normal’ operations. This means addressing huge backlogs of outpatient appointments that have had to be postponed due to the pandemic; especially when it comes to urgent and non-urgent clinical services.
Now, on the face of it, this might seem like a simple task: after all, with such a huge number of staff now on hand and additional facilities available, surely staff can simply be re-deployed to resume some sort of normality, right? Well, no – it’s just not that simple.
The Covid 19 pandemic has exasperated long-standing issues affecting the NHS and our entire healthcare services but also, brought on a whole host of new ones that’ll need to be carefully managed and resolved to allow the NHS to return to any sense of normality. These include:
- Ongoing support for the mental health of NHS staff and affected medical professionals
First and foremost, the heroic NHS staff battling on the frontlines against the Coronavirus will have been exposed to incredibly challenging working conditions; having to make very difficult decisions every day whilst also risking their own lives in the process. The intense experience of fighting a global pandemic could have short-term and long-term impacts on the mental health of all medical professionals: from the specialist doctors, to nursing clinicians, psychologists, porters and even cleaners they’ll need time to recover from and come to terms with their experiences.
As well as time to rest and recuperate, there’ll need to be a consigned effort to ensure the wellbeing of medical professionals is thoroughly supported. Of course, there have been many fantastic initiatives that have popped up during the pandemic to help both hospitals and staff in the fight against Covid 19; but with the virus’ devastating effects beginning to wane, we must safeguard the mental health support for all medical professionals with ongoing, strengthened backing.
If you’d like to talk to someone about your own mental wellbeing – or perhaps that of a loved one – just click on this link for a comprehensive list of professional organisations who can help.
- A comprehensive review of personal protective equipment measures
The subject of personal protective equipment (PPE for short), or perhaps more importantly the lack of it, has been a serious ongoing problem. Whilst the UK Government is making rapid efforts to ensure there’s sufficient PPE for all health workers, the shortcomings in their strategy have been painfully exposed by the spread of Covid 19.
The lack of PPE has caused two critical issues: The first being that a lack of protective equipment has exposed health workers to the Covid 19 virus, thus making their working environments potentially lethal. The second is the fear factor health workers have of working in these unsafe environments without the necessary protective equipment.
This fear factor is potentially a huge barrier to resuming normal operations and also managing any surge in infections. Whilst we may have a larger pool of workers to fill positions, we’re hearing that many staff are unwilling to return to work whilst there are potential shortfalls in crucial PPE – and who can blame them?
If the NHS is to resume normal operations effectively, the Government’s strategy and supply of PPE will need a serious overhaul.
- Rolling out of effective virtual consultations
With social distancing a key weapon in the fight against the spread of Covid 19, we’re all having to adapt to living and working remotely. The health sector is no different; with general practices now managing more than 85% of patient consultations remotely.
95% of practices now have video consultation capability live and the remaining few percent in the process of implementation or procurement of a solution. It’s also been recommended that GP practices should continue to triage patient contacts and to use online consultation so that patients can be directed to the most appropriate member of the practice team straight away. This helps prioritise demand and also cut down waiting times.
Hospitals around the globe are no different. In the United States for example, the Covid 19 pandemic has led to a ten-fold surge of outpatient appointments being conducted remotely. Closer to home, video conferencing and virtual consultations have been sweeping healthcare systems, as Trisha Greenhalgh, co-director of the Interdisciplinary Research in Health Sciences Unit at Oxford University says:
“We have a research project that has been tracking the use of video conferencing in Scotland over the past 6 months, and in the space of the last 2 weeks we’ve seen [a] 1000% increase in use”.
“It’s incredible. [COVID-19] has done what we couldn’t do until now, because, suddenly, it’s not just the patient who might die—now it’s the doctor who might die. So the doctors are highly motivated. The risk–benefit ratio for virtual health care has massively shifted and all the red tape has suddenly been cut.”
Of course, whilst remote consultations are nothing new (they’ve been around for years both in Europe and further afield), conducting them effectively is key to not only maintaining normal services through Covid 19, but also when looking to resume normal services and catching up with backlogs.
- Managing surges in demand
The need to return to normal services is obviously crucial for people who are managing ongoing health concerns or require more complex medical care. However, this desire to combat backlogs in outpatient appointments and operations needs to be balanced with preparations against a potential second wave of infections or ‘hotspots’ of cases.
This is where hospitals and NHS trusts need to have more proactive and sophisticated methods of managing their staff banks and rosters. Of course, there are a wealth of workforce platforms to choose from; but it’s simply the case that many are ‘off the shelf’ systems that offer little to no flexibility to cope with the more unique requirements the Covid 19 pandemic brought.
- Increased and accurate testing
Until there is an effective vaccine available, testing will be the key to managing the virus and curtailing its spread. Recently, the Government has increased its testing capabilities, but it will need to be more widespread and timely in order for it to be truly effective.
At present, we’re seeing daily testing begin to reach the Government’s target of 100,000 people per day; however, this level testing – although ideally more – will need to remain in place for at least a year to not only help curb the spread of the virus, but allow people who may have already had it or a certain level of immunity to return to work and ‘normal’ life – all without that fear of potentially catching the disease.
At the time of writing, you can currently apply for a coronavirus test if you’re:
- an essential worker with coronavirus symptoms
- you have coronavirus symptoms now (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste)
- asking for a test for someone you live with, if they have coronavirus symptoms
Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can apply if they live with an essential worker, a person aged 65 or over, or someone who travels to work. You can also apply for a test if you have a clinical referral from NHS 111 online.
- Reliance on Locums and contractors
Lastly, and in relation to managing surges in demand, NHS trusts will most likely rely on staff from external providers. As a result, they’ll need to find more effective ways of engaging with both temporary personnel and the companies that supply them.
One issue that has been raised during the pandemic are the rights of locum professionals; specifically, death in service payments should the worst happen whilst they’re working in the fight against Covid 19. This type of concern is something we’ve raised on behalf of our own candidates to Chancellor Rishi Sunak; mainly as this type of problem is preventing many valuable staff returning to the NHS or volunteering their own time.
If we’re going to address all the issues affecting the NHS and have our healthcare services in general meet the challenges of today and the future, there needs to be a dedicated effort from the NHS and its’ administrators to ensure hospitals and medical centres can be empowered to utilise these vital resources as and when they need them.
If you are an NHS trust interested us supporting your road to recovery we can help you with:
- Bespoke insourcing services across all specialities for both elective care and outpatient services, including virtual consultations
- Adhoc and long term capacity to supply locums across all areas of doctors, nursing and AHP’s
In the last 12-months, we have treated over 13,000 patients and IDMCS are immensely proud of our overall 97% patient satisfaction feedback score.