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Lessons from the pandemic for the future of health policy

The UK needs healthcare that is ahead of the game and that means continued modernisation and a culture that welcomes it

By Sara Siegel  

© Edward Jenner / Pexels

This article was produced in association with Deloitte

When Covid-19 was officially designated a global pandemic in March last year, the government moved fast to protect the UK public. Its priority from the outset was to save lives by suppressing the spread of the virus, building a testing programme and scaling-up capacity in the health system. One year later, as governments and public health systems around the world start to reflect on lessons from the pandemic, I would share four observations on what it means for the future of health policy.

First of all, our health and care systems need to cement the extraordinary progress they have made in digital transformation in the past year. 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.

“Our health and care systems need to cement the extraordinary progress they have made in digital transformation in the past year. 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”

Second, 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 BMA’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. 

Third, 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.

Fourth, 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.  

The Covid-19 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 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.

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