Covid-19 has been a ‘game changer’ for how healthcare and social care is delivered
PA Consulting’s healthcare strategy expert, Erin Birch, discusses how the public and private health and social care sectors are collaborating more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without question there has been a collective effort in the fight against the pandemic, with unprecedented levels of collaboration in the face of a sudden and momentous national and international emergency. For example, to increase NHS capacity the private healthcare sector has struck an emergency deal with NHS England to block book almost all their services, including facilities and many of their clinical staff.
The NHS has also worked in collaboration with the military, voluntary sector and government to create the Nightingale hospitals at a truly impressive pace. Likewise, the life sciences, pharma and biotech sectors are heavily involved in the pursuit of a safe and scalable vaccine, as well as expediting critical virus testing. But even further across the private sector there has been incredible support for healthcare services with top UK brands leading the charge on fundraising efforts, contributing to research and manufacturing PPE equipment.
However, public concerns about healthcare privatisation has been a barrier to collaboration. Erin says: “It is drummed into people that any involvement of the private sector in healthcare is a significant threat – a slippery slope to losing universal free access.”
She says fear of privatisation often stems from “limited public understanding” of how health and care systems in the UK function – for example the care sector already has significant private sector provision.
Erin suggests another barrier to public-private collaboration the NHS is also “romanticised as a post-war bonding piece of public policy enshrined in time”.
“It’s the only healthcare system in the world which has become emblematic of national identity. The emotional attachment to the NHS has historically been a barrier to public and private sector collaboration.
“However, during the pandemic, it has proven a real asset. The government knows that public trust in the NHS is high and therefore associate their political messaging with supporting and protecting the NHS. Miraculously, they’ve been able to do this at the same time as praising private sector collaboration. This signifies a step-change in the potential for collaboration,” says Erin.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been many examples of collaboration. NHS and private hospitals are working together, private and council-run care homes are supporting each other to support older people, and there’s been an increase in the use of digital patient consultations provided by private technology businesses. But will this collaboration continue once the pandemic is potentially over?
For Erin, the public-private sector collaboration is likely to continue but she believes private sector companies will need to be proactive to ensure this.
“They need to consider how to use this window of opportunity to work closely with public sector leaders to design a new, modern healthcare system that helps people access the best knowledge and skills from across the public-private divide.”
Erin says practical steps that private sector companies could take include incubating public-private sector innovation, funding research into the value of collaboration, sharing scientific insights into how better outcomes and a greater return on investment can be achieved, and, more tactically, help the government understand more about what it can buy – services and outcomes rather than just products and units of activity.
She goes on to say that the issues will continue to be around technology, digital consultations, vaccines, and broader delivery capability because they existed before the pandemic, as well as consultant fees, and big service delivery survivors supported by government prior to the outbreak which should be continued afterwards.