How will healthcare change in 2021?

A little reflection will make anyone who tries to predict the future of healthcare nervous. After all, who could have said anything in early 2020 that turned out to be in any way accurate about the year to come!

I do have the advantage of having attended an excellent King’s Fund seminar, helpfully entitled, “What’s in store for health and care in 2021?”.  The session did a good job in mapping out some of the contours of the coming year – if not predicting exactly how things will look.

The message that came through loud and clear was the massive challenge that the healthcare system faces. Even assuming that the vaccine campaign rapidly defeats Covid (a big assumption!), the combination of helping patients who are recovering, tackling the backlogs in waiting lists and meeting the needs of all the people who come forward with fresh issues that they have been staying at home with up to now, creates a unique set of challenges.  Add in a likely spike in mental health issues and the desperate need to reform social care, and the plot becomes thicker still.  That the NHS is in the midst of a major institutional reorganisation – as commissioning gives way to Integrated Care Systems – is the icing on the cake.

This brief recitation of the challenges alone demonstrates that someone is going to have to carry out some serious prioritisation. That must start with showing the staff who have delivered so much in the last year – and who will remain key in the coming year – that they are valued and that there is hope that things will get better in the future.

On a more hopeful note, there was also talk at the King’s Fund seminar of locking in the gains from the Coronavirus era.  The importance of the shift to on-line activity was emphasised in particular.  That is easy to say, of course, but harder to do – particularly in the context of the multiple pressures that healthcare will be facing.  But it seems to me that innovation of this sort is essential.

One particularly interesting comment came from the chief analyst of the King’s Fund’s (Siva Anandaciva).  He noted a diving line between organisations who have a strong, codified way of learning, and those that don’t.

Of course, there are several stages to learning.  The most important – and one that is often glossed over – is the need to get a clear idea of what has gone wrong in the first place.  It is amazing how many incident investigations I have read that are a little hazy on what happened and why, but crystal clear on what should be learnt.  Without clear understanding, the “learning”, falls into cliché – “more staff”, “better training” etc.

At Verita we are particularly interested in the learning process.  Having read so many internal investigations reports, the need for a sound investigatory process as the building block of being a learning organisation is clear to us.  It is for that reason that we have partnered with Microsoft to produce Eva – an application which helps people through the process of investigating and automates the output.

2021 could be the most challenging year in the NHS’s history.  Now is the time to get this right.

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