Any organisation involved in healthcare who tried to predict the emerging trends and themes in the sector for 2020 clearly had a thankless task. The outbreak of COVID-19 has accelerated certain initiatives and shifted focus around others. If there’s one industry that cannot afford to stand still at the moment, it’s healthcare – and against the backdrop of ongoing improvement, budget cuts and the political landscape, new challenges are arising.
With that in mind, here are 4 emerging themes in health for 2020, and beyond.
Workforce, skills and wellbeing
During the pandemic, front-line, administrative and leadership staff in the NHS have been under immense amounts of pressure. In the wake of the virus’ peak, health organisations will be considering ways to uplift, develop and show appreciation to their staff. Staff wellbeing is always key, particularly in a high pressure environment like the NHS, and the stress of a global pandemic will rightly bring discussion about how to provide vital mental health and wellbeing support to the forefront.
From a skills and workforce perspective, many will have had to rapidly adopt new skills, or even progress into new or significantly different roles. It will be important to consider how skills and knowledge developed by staff during COVID can be used going forward. Equally, staff wellbeing is always key, particularly in a high pressure environment like the NHS.
Additionally, 2020 and the wider global context has led to vital conversations about diversity, particularly zeroing in on uplifting BAME people and increasing diversity and opportunities for them in leadership roles. Just 20% of the 1.2 million people who work for the NHS are from ethnic groups other than white. In “very senior roles” the gap becomes even more significant, with 93% being occupied by white people. In senior roles (bands 8a-9) 88% are white.
AI and RPA
The push towards automation in the NHS is not new. The organisation and individual trusts have recognised the value that robotic process automation (RPA) can offer to various clinical and administrative processes – taking care of laborious and time-consuming tasks like data entry, streamlining these to save time and free up clinicians and other frontline staff to spend more quality time with patients. During COVID, a number of trusts have implemented RPAs and AI technology at-pace, assisting with both COVID testing and other aspects of care, in order to relieve some of the significant strain put on frontline staff, processes and systems in general. As we move into the later stages of the pandemic, conversation turns to how we can keep this kind of montemum, and how trusts can learn from others’ experiences of implementation for future projects.
Innovation and improvement
Ongoing innovation and improvement is a priority in the NHS. But through a post-COVID lens, a big part of the conversation around innovation and improvement is not just the “what” and the “why” but the “how”? Extenuating circumstances have led to many trusts rapidly implementing processes, systems and technologies that have been in the works for months or even years. It’s important that we take the time to understand how this rapid innovation can be carried forward in order to drive improvement, increase efficiency and the level of care.
Telehealth and virtual care models
Another emerging area of focus and increasing priority born out of the necessity of COVID is telehealth and virtual care. Even pre-COVID, the costs of unnecessary GP appointments and hospital visits were pretty staggering – in 2018/19, A&E visits cost the NHS £3.4bn – a 6% increase on the previous year. In 2019, it was estimated that on average, a primary care appointment costs the NHS £30.
Ostensibly, healthcare organisations will want to continue to limit the amount of visits they get, particularly if care can be effectively delivered virtually, over video or voice call – not just from a cost perspective, but from an ongoing safety perspective too. It will be useful to examine the readiness of trusts UK-wide for delivering virtual or telehealth models, how this was utilised during COVID, and how successful it was.
In the coming months, it will be vital for the healthcare sector to reflect on these themes and how it can move forward in each area to continue to improve care during and post COVID. With collaboration and networking opportunities in physical spaces looking limited, we must look towards other solutions. Watch this space to find out how we’re supporting the healthcare sector with innovating and collaborating in 2020.