In the past year the Covid-19 pandemic has altered life and work unimaginably, as businesses, individuals and communities were forced to adapt overnight. However, the greatest upheaval and transformation was undoubtedly faced by the health and social care sectors. The UK alone has seen nearly 6million cases and over 130,000 confirmed deaths as of August 2021, which have presented the NHS and care workers with new challenges, traumatic experiences and even opportunities to learn and improve services.
Generate’s payroll and contractor management specialists explore three ways that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to transform the health and social sectors in 2021 and beyond.
3 Ways Hospitals & Care Homes Will Change Following Covid-19
1. Dramatic Changes to Existing Skills Shortages
Pre-Covid, the UK was already suffering a severe shortage of around 50,000 nurses. In January 2021, a survey by Nursing Times reported that 80% of nurses feel patient safety is compromised due to the lack of staff. However, relief could soon be on the way: Autumn 2020 saw a 30% increase in the volume of applications to nursing courses than in the previous year, with a 40% rise in the number of male applicants. In highlighting the importance of the NHS and increasing awareness through the Clap for Carers campaign, the pandemic has clearly inspired thousands of young people to embrace careers in the public sector.
Employers are also stepping in to improve their offering as a solution to the current shortage. Increasingly popular ‘welcome bonuses’ could result in better pay for the nurses and support workers involved, and empower others with greater influence to demand better rates and packages. The combination of pay rises and new recruits could reduce pressure on existing professionals, lowering the volume of departures due to stress or financial need, and in turn retaining and creating skills for the healthcare sector. Whilst skills shortages are unlikely to completely reverse in the next few years, contractors and teams will likely receive greater support, especially in areas that were previously unpopular with new recruits, due to greater careers awareness.
2. Renewed Focus on Mental Health Across All Services
Whilst at the beginning of 2020, 1 in 4 British adults experienced significant mental illnesses annually, the impact of national lockdowns, social distancing, physical health conditions and lack of access to services have seen the nation’s mental health worsen.
Glasgow University recently revealed that one in four people reported at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms between March and May 2020 alone. The study found that women and individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds reported the worst mental health outcomes. In the UK, up to 13.4million people may currently be suffering from a mental health condition.
Mental health in younger generations also worsened during the first round of restrictions. The lack of routine, social interaction and learning time has caused distress, confusion and anxiety in children and young people, with greatest impact on looked-after children, children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A recent report revealed that one in four children in some areas of the UK have experienced mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic – almost double the records from 2020.
Survivors of Covid-19 are likely to encounter mounting problems in the next few years, as the physical and mental damage of the disease becomes clearer. The University of Oxford and The Lancet have both evidenced increased risk of anxiety, depression and dementia in people who previously tested positive for coronavirus, in both otherwise healthy patients and in people living with other conditions.
Following mass unemployment, financial insecurity, illness and grieving for loved ones lost in the pandemic, national wellbeing will be increasingly valued as a priority to boost employment rates, grow business productivity and support communities. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) reporting that mental disorders are among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide, governments are increasingly understanding the links between physical and mental health. This new knowledge, combined with recognition of the pressures on the NHS and local authorities, will drive growing public mental health campaigns and generate greater resources and psychiatric research.
3. Integration of Health & Social Care
During the UK’s three national lockdowns, professionals across departments and locations collaborated and shared knowledge in an effort to adapt to rapid demand for health and social services. Many different branches of the public sector became more involved in supporting patients, users and families:
- Local Government departments delivered additional resources to help social workers support children’s health and educational needs, with particular support provided to help rehome and assist looked-after children.
- Teachers have incorporated pastoral care and personal support into their daily responsibilities, including mentoring and providing online intervention and tuition for looked-after children and those with SEND needs
- Nurses and doctors have increasingly collaborated with care homes to protect elderly and vulnerable individuals, before, during and after hospital stays to reduce both direct Covid-19 transmission and physical and mental health problems.
Recent reports show that council spending on early support for vulnerable children has almost halved in the past decade, reinforcing the feelings of many in the social care sector that resources are increasingly squeezed at a time of accelerating need. This lack of funding could spark an opportunity to pool resources and increase collaboration. Better communication across hospitals and care homes would empower a more holistic view of end-to-end care – putting patient needs right at the heart of all decisions – and create a community of support for all those working in the public sector.
The UK Government’s new Health & Social Care Bill explicitly discusses health and social care integration through the Better Health Fund. Though controversial, with some sections of the document contested due to the proposed involvements of private healthcare, the Bill could launch a new way of thinking about the public sector. The tabling of the Bill could provide the opportunity to discuss and introduce new measures to integrate health and social care.
Some local authorities are already becoming more involved in patient care and community services. Northumberland County Council have approved a new approach to adult social care services, which will constitute just one part of a wider integrated model seeing GP practices, mental health services, community services, the voluntary sector and local councils work much more closely together. The council aim to deliver fully integrated, collaborative services that benefit users, patients and staff.
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