Sector trends

Life after coronavirus: healthcare

Sarah Pumffrey, national sector head of healthcare at NatWest, explores the implications for healthcare of a new report by the bank’s principal economist, Stephen Blackman, which highlights five areas in our lives most affected by the pandemic.

The future delivery of healthcare

Sir William Beveridge, architect of the modern welfare state, wrote that there had to be “a national health service for prevention and comprehensive treatment available to all members of the community”.

At the time of its 70th anniversary, in July 2018, YouGov reported 87% of Brits were proud of the NHS, and in March, April and May 2020, the country united to stand at its doorways once a week to applaud health workers.

But Covid-19 has shown the future delivery of healthcare is likely to include a partnership between the NHS and private companies, enabled and catalysed by policies that are set to address the structural problems in the sector.

Nation & Society

We’ve seen increased interaction between the public and private sector to deal with peaks in demand, and what we learn could be a model for the future. Last August, for example, the government announced private hospitals would be paid up to £10bn to ease NHS waiting lists.

This may be expanded as a model. Traditionally, the focus of the NHS has been general. As healthcare makes more use of cutting-edge technology such as MRI, more of it may be based in private institutions. So, there will need to be closer association between the two, and our social contract may demand a partnership approach.

Another set of partnerships that may see some adjustment will be the inevitable partnerships between the NHS and big tech. This is mandated by the level of specialism tech companies bring to the cutting edge. We’ve already seen partnerships between five NHS trusts and Google Health to use artificial intelligence (AI) for applications like early cancer diagnosis.

But this means careful consideration over data sharing. Large anonymised datasets based on medical records can be used to create algorithms, but this assumes we share our data, perhaps using wearable technology, in return for advanced capabilities.

Work & Play

The crisis has focused our minds on the challenge of social care, both for the companies and workers who provide it and the unpaid carers who have to reconcile the needs of their families with work.

While flexible working arrangements may make it easier for carers to stay in the workforce, or re-enter it, this is not a solution to a problem that is driven by demographic changes. Pre-crisis, the projection [was] that the combination of Brexit and low pay in the industry meant that, without changes, the UK will be short of around 400,000 carers by 2028.

The shortage is partly due to the structure of the industry: almost three quarters of carers are paid below the real living wage, according to research by Skills for Care for the Living Wage Foundation, because of the economics of a sector that is adjacent to the NHS but separate from it. During the crisis these often-anonymous workers have become visible to us. Making care provision a desirable, better-funded job will be an important challenge.

Place & Community

It costs more than £2,000 a week for someone to stay in hospital. Long-stay wards in hospitals contain many unfortunate patients who have nowhere to go.

This could [potentially] improve if we build ‘care villages’. These are already a reality in the US and New Zealand. We have seen some amazing examples that have GP surgeries, dentists and primary care facilities on site. During the lockdown, they stopped vulnerable people from becoming too isolated, while ensuring they had access to essential services. I think that model could snowball over the next five to 10 years. It is effective, it suits the needs of the population and their families who don’t want to see relatives in homes and hospitals, and it is efficient.

Economy & Finance

For those who fear another bout of healthcare austerity, the encouraging news is that it appears big tax rises or spending cuts are not on the radar right now. But at some point, this will need to be addressed.

We will see the evolution of tailored diets for individuals, driven by data from wearable devices. There will be demand for specialised services that maintain us in health, rather than fix us when we are ill or suffering from long-term conditions. The incentive is to live longer, healthier lives

Sarah Pumffrey
National sector head of healthcare at NatWest

This may lead to a renewed focus on the tax paid by profitable large businesses, which are perceived by almost half of the public to be underpaying. If there is a focus on fairness, some ultra-high-net-worth individuals in this country have already stated they have no issue paying more tax. They may find the public and the politicians who represent them are ready to take up the offer.

Health & Meaning

It is unsustainable, however, for us to continue thinking about the health sector as a set of services that fix us, however we choose to live. A notable convert to this point of view is Boris Johnson. He told the Conservative Party Conference: “The reason I had such a nasty experience with the disease is … I had a very common underlying condition – my friends, I was too fat.”

I think we will see the evolution of tailored diets for individuals, driven by data from wearable devices. There will be demand for specialised services that maintain us in health, rather than fix us when we are ill or suffering from long-term conditions. The incentive is to live longer, healthier lives.

But the challenge may soon switch from whether there is enough demand for this type of help to whether there is enough supply. If there are thousands of Johnson-like converts, can we make the technology, and the insights, available to all? The link between education, healthcare and technology has never been more important.

Megatrends: five essentials for the healthcare sector

  • As the NHS aims to be more effective at targeting limited resources, specialised AI firms will find new customers for their services.
  • There needs to be a sustainable business model to close the care gap. In the short run, non-healthcare companies that allow flexible contracts will be more likely to hire valuable staff who also have care responsibilities.
  • Redeveloping communities as ‘care villages’ could complement and replace traditional care homes for the elderly who prefer to retain independence.
  • A renewed focus on fairness in taxation may boost funding for public services, including healthcare.
  • More of us will now start to think about a health service as something that keeps us healthy, rather than fixes us when we are sick.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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