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Covid is speeding up innovation in care but lessons need to be learned fast

Greg Allen talks to AHSN leaders about harnessing tech for personalised care

Greg Allen, Jon Siddall and Guy Boersma
8th October 2020 about a 4 minute read

As health and social care staff brace themselves for the next phase of Covid-19, it is more important than ever to harness the potential of technology to personalise care and ensure disadvantaged groups don’t miss out.

That’s the message from Greg Allen, Future Care Capital chief executive, who has been speaking to leaders in the field keen to ensure lessons are learned from the experience so far of the pandemic.

In the latest in a series of online conversations, Allen met with Jon Siddall and Guy Boersma, both senior figures in the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), the innovation arm of the NHS.

Allen said that although people were crucial, one of the biggest risks is that the sector fails to realise the potential of using technology to personalise care and address the extra burden of work resulting from an ageing population.

“If we’re going to understand the potential of technology and then use it at scale for impact then we have to bring together the people and the technology.”

Transformation of the care landscape

Allen added that the pandemic was transforming the health and social care system. On the positive side it was speeding up developments, so that work already planned for some years, for example, Community Assessment and Treatment Units in Cornwall, have been set up in a matter of weeks

Jon Siddall, chief executive of the South West AHSN, said it was “inspiring” to see the quality of people in the health and care system and what they have been able to achieve given the opportunity to do it. “Covid-19 has meant moving from a world of relative certainty to a constantly shifting health and care landscape. Staff have adapted brilliantly, but it’s vital we capture the learning while it is still fresh.

“For the first time we’re removing conflicting priorities and saying ‘nothing else matters more than this.’ Usually in the health and social care system everything matters…. It’s inspiring seeing people rally round a clear goal”.

Psychologically safe environment

In order make all this happen managers have been pushed to create a more ‘psychologically safe’ environment for staff. “People have been given permission to try things out, work with others across organisations and across systems because they’re very clear on what the end goal is”.

He added that in his previous role at Guy’s and St. Thomas’, planning was all about the long term: “We made changes over a 10 year period…. But now we’ve gone from that to working on something that has to be done in two weeks… When you remove certainty from everything then change becomes more comfortable — because everything is changing.”

Guy Boersma, Kent, Surrey and Sussex AHSN managing director, said what stood out for him was how the way decisions are made is changing. In the past it has felt like “swimming against the tide,” trying to change a system with “old bureaucracies that are hard to shift.”

“But now it doesn’t require meetings to be planned when everyone is available, and this leads to faster decision-making. Frontline staff have much faster access to decision-makers”.

Surge of goodwill

Another trend Boersma identified was the explosion of “good neighbour activities”. As part of his local Covid-19 Mutual Aid WhatsApp Group he said he had seen at first hand how action happened much more quickly than with the Local Resilience Forum or the NHS GoodSAM scheme.

He added: “The care sector has witnessed a huge surge of goodwill and common purpose from health and care staff alongside a similar upsurge from neighbours and communities. This has helped to compensate for an NHS which priorities physical health ahead of mental health and NHS care ahead of social care in terms of funding allocations.”

Jon Sidall said that for him the challenge is “less about how we move resources around the system and more about how we better understand the specific needs of the populations and respond to them in a more precise way”.

He added that issues like mental health, obesity, and multiple long term conditions all play out unequally in populations and Covid has been the same. “We have learned from our work in primary care that we need to be much more targeted.”

Implications of longevity

Greg Allen said that it was interesting to look at planning in the context of longevity and the 100-year life. “We’re living a totally different life to our grandparents in terms of education, work, retirement… people will want to work later in their lives so how will communities embrace that?

“We must focus on how we can support people to live long healthy lives through innovation, particularly when it comes to wellbeing, both physical and mental health and place.”