How will COVID-19 shape future health policy?
In March 2020, when the arrival of a global pandemic saw the majority of the country heading into lockdown, Deloitte was one of 40 public and private sector companies that rapidly stepped up to support the creation and expansion of testing as part of NHS Test and Trace.
For digital health experts like our UK head of healthcare Sara Siegel, who led Deloitte’s work on the testing programme, it was clear from the start that the needs of the pandemic would bring changes at a speed that we hadn’t thought possible.
Now, as governments and public health systems around the world start to reflect on lessons from the pandemic, Sara’s experiences have inspired four observations on how the challenges of the pandemic can impact positively on the future of health policy.
“The pandemic has been a heartbreaking experience for millions of people. If I could hope for one positive legacy, it would be for UK healthcare to be fully equipped for anything the future could bring and build on the extraordinary progress made in the past year. For me, that means a digitally enabled, continually evolving system recognised around the world for its forward outlook as well as the quality of its patient care.
“Firstly, our health systems need to cement the digital progress we’ve seen. The pandemic forced a surge in the sector’s use of technology, and the best of it needs to be locked in as accepted practice. Of course, we need to return to some of the previous ways of working where physical interactions are needed. But where digital technology has been proven to be efficient and effective, it should become an accepted part of the mix. GP and outpatient consultations, remote patient monitoring and triage by video and phone should have a place in healthcare beyond the pandemic and I’d like to see commensurate investment and policies that support more digital-first pathways.
If I could hope for one positive legacy, it would be for UK healthcare to be fully equipped for anything the future could bring and build on the extraordinary progress made in the past year.
Head of healthcare, Deloitte UK
“Secondly, we need to find innovative ways to get screening and elective surgery back on track to deal with the backlog and new demand built up during lockdown. The British Medical Association’s analysis of government data found that between April 2020 and February 2021 there were 3.24 million fewer elective procedures and 20.07 million fewer outpatient attendances compared to the previous year. While there will be some capacity constraints to overcome, there could be new ways of working to explore, powered by new technologies, that can support the health system in managing the throughput needed.
“Thirdly, the UK needs healthcare that is ahead of the game and that means continued modernisation and a culture that welcomes it. Health reform is generally administered as one-off upheavals, but change has to be embraced as a continuous process in which the UK’s system makes fuller use of new technology, keeps pace with other sectors as an employer and collaborates effectively with adjacent sectors to deliver the best possible outcomes.
Change has to be embraced as a continuous process in which the UK’s system makes fuller use of new technology, keeps pace with other sectors as an employer and collaborates effectively with adjacent sectors to deliver the best possible outcomes.
Head of healthcare, Deloitte UK
“Fourthly, the UK needs to build on its leadership and eminence in the health space. Before the pandemic struck, we were already a recognised world leader in genomics, which has revolutionary potential for personalising the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of new and inherited illnesses. To that we can add the experience of rapidly scaling up a testing programme and delivering a national vaccine campaign at pace. All of this should be at the heart of the Government’s ambition for a Global Britain as the UK leads and stimulates worldwide action on issues that affect us all.”