Integration, collaboration and innovation

Tony Veverka, CEO of the Transform Hospital Group, discusses establishing a whole systems approach to patient care in the age of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested every aspect of the country’s healthcare infrastructure, forcing policy makers and clinicians to re-think business-as-usual and adapt to collaborative practices, particularly between the public and independent sectors.

Now, as we mark the first anniversary of the pandemic, it is an opportune and timely moment to examine how these partnerships can evolve and continue to support the delivery of outstanding patient care into the future.

With the government’s NHS reform White Paper published earlier this month, policymakers and healthcare leaders are now examining proposals that would bring about the most significant overhaul of the NHS in a decade. There can be no doubt that the decisions taken in the months ahead will shape the delivery of patient care long into the future.

The intentions of the paper’s proposals are broadly a welcome step in the right direction. Introducing a more integrated, less bureaucratic system that addresses the specific health needs of populations at place level would improve the delivery of patient care at a critical moment – but the current lack of clarity as to the role of the independent sector leaves the proposals at risk of falling short in bringing about a ‘whole systems’ approach that would enable patients to access the very best facilities, clinical expertise, technology and innovations in healthcare, wherever they live.

The independent sector’s specialities and areas of expertise at a local level must be recognised and harnessed in order to support the NHS as statutory Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are rolled out across the country. Such a move would provide more focused and higher quality patient care at better value for the taxpayer, and must be a core component of ICS strategies in the months ahead.

In a recent report – Integration, collaboration and innovation: establishing a whole systems approach to patient care in the age of COVID-19 – we at Transform Hospital Group have set out a 10-point plan that seeks to support policy makers as they examine ways to bring about greater and more productive integration between the NHS and independent sector providers in the months ahead.

The plan most prominently highlights the need for ICSs to draw on the specific areas of expertise independent providers offer within their jurisdictions, which must be achieved through providing a statutory footing to ensure that private providers are included within the organisational structure of ICSs, within appropriate forums.

Indeed, Transform Hospital Group’s Burcot Hall Hospital in Bromsgrove and our country-leading expertise in weight management solutions is demonstrative of the services that can be drawn upon to support the NHS at a local level in order to address the increasingly pressing nation-wide issue of obesity. As a centre of excellence, we can offer vital insights, expertise and facilities to support the NHS in the West Midlands as it addresses what has become an issue of epidemic proportions. This is indicative of the strategic role that independent providers can play in the delivery of care regionally, providing cost-effective access to state-of-the-art facilities and world-class expertise that may sit outside of NHS structures.

There must also be a greater recognition of the fact that the overhaul of the NHS is occurring at a time of unparalleled pressure on health services, both as we address the immediate implications of the pandemic and as we emerge from the crisis with a backlog of roughly 10 million patients. The government should therefore establish an oversight body, comprised of individuals from across the health sector with the sole intention of ensuring a smooth transition under which the current system can continue to remain agile and harness innovations, in the interest of the continuity of patient care.

A great deal of debate has surrounded the enhanced powers of the Secretary of State under the proposals, which – if managed appropriately – stand to improve accountability to the electorate. They must however also allow elected officials to make decisive, efficient and informed decisions in the interests of the population as a whole and in that regard, it was encouraging to see the White Paper focus on the obesity crisis.
Finally, the proposals relating to the procurement of NHS services – which seek to overturn a key element of the 2012 NHS reforms – seek to eliminate the cumbersome tendering process for contracts, whilst ensuring that competition remains where it can drive innovation and ultimately improve the delivery of patient care. Although this intention is positive, in practice, there may be a risk that innovative providers are ‘locked out’ from procurement processes that are designed to ensure efficiencies. It must therefore include a clear and strict enforcement mechanism in order to ensure that outsourced services continue to play an agile and innovative role in a manner that is transparent and accountable.

Looking to the future, the independent sector is ideally placed to play a pivotal role in supporting both the NHS’ recovery from the pandemic and the overall delivery of healthcare going forward, so long as its specific strengths are harnessed to address the health needs of local populations. The sector’s added capacity, expertise and ability to support essential and pioneering services must be leveraged – drawing on the strengths of all providers, embracing innovation and ultimately delivering the best possible patient care, free at the point of use, wherever and whenever it is needed.

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