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From reaction to reform: preparing health services for the next COVID challenge

PA’s IT transformation expert, Indi Singh, discusses how health services can prepare for the next COVID-19 challenge.

Healthcare services have undergone rapid change during the pandemic, including a shift to remote delivery of primary care, system-wide collaboration to source and share essential supplies, and major service reforms to separate COVID-19 patients from others. And now they face new challenges – particularly around delivering mass vaccination campaigns, and restarting elective treatments that slowed or halted during the pandemic.

As health policymakers and strategists consider how to address these needs while dealing with rising infection rates, a recent Global Government Forum webinar brought together USA and UK leaders from trade unionism, healthcare management and digital services. They discussed what we’ve learned about how to deal with COVID-19, and the lessons to apply as national health and care services deal with the evolving demands of the global pandemic.

Indi says that to help healthcare providers improve service delivery models, local leaders can deploy digital and data tools to strengthen activities such as modelling demand and managing patient journeys. When, for example, acute care providers have a clear picture of where demand lies and how it’s evolving, then “you can start thinking about your patient flow in between your wards and across your hospital,” he says.

Indi goes on to stress the need for more sustainable investment in end-to-end services – improving patient pathways and handovers between service providers. This in turn may require changes to the split between healthcare providers’ capital and revenue budgets, he says: “We need to think about the move away from capital funding coming down nationally to revenue-based funding that can create investment around sustainable services.”

The UK’s nascent ‘integrated care systems’ (ICSs) – through which local authorities and NHS bodies are working at the regional level to streamline patient care – also need investment, Indi argues. PA carries out digital maturity assessments of ICSs, he adds, and “it is really clear that the operating model isn’t mature yet.”

Indi says that the pandemic has improved collaboration at the ICS level and produced lots of examples of transferrable best practice: he cited an app created in North-West England to forecast demand and help providers plan their response. It’s important that these lessons are transmitted across the sector, he argues, and delivery bodies given direct assistance to introduce new services. And to support these changes, Indi adds, it will be important to address a lack of clarity over responsibility for funding investments. He says that too often “we haven’t seen the reuse of services that are really good – that wipe their own face economically. Because people aren’t clear who the payer is, no one really moves on it.”

In some cases, Indi argues, national government should step in to fund systems that benefit patients and ICS bodies, and that many health providers “simply do not have the resource” to simultaneously provide services and “do the transformation work and the forward-thinking, both in terms of the capacity in the workforce they have, but also in the capability.” Indi suggests that help with funds and skills will be required from the centre: “Blueprints are great, but what we have to recognize is they’re going to need hands on-support around implementation and the introduction of some of those new technologies.”

Read the full article in Global Government Forum

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