• Beccy Fenton, Partner |
3 min read

Fundamental change needed now ahead of the crises still to come

Our healthcare systems are under threat. Despite the best efforts of healthcare leaders and workers alike, waves of crises related to access, demand, workforce shortages and staff burnout are pummelling healthcare organisations around the world.

It’s easy to blame Covid but a host of other factors were already impacting healthcare systems long before the pandemic struck. These included aging and growing populations, increased non-communicable disease burden, economic inequality and a reliance on outdated technology, coupled with long-standing workforce supply and wellbeing issues.

In time, the pandemic may prove to be just the first of several successive waves of crises. Subsequent catalysts may include a looming global recession on top of Covid response-related debt, geopolitical instability, climate change disasters, mass migration and the cost of next-generation treatments, to name but a few.

Healthcare systems, including the NHS, risk being overwhelmed by these waves, putting senior leaders under immense pressure to take action.

When drawing attention to this, commentators often talk of securing more money, training more healthcare professionals or recruiting more foreign trained nurses. These approaches may have worked in the past but are unlikely to be effective in navigating the magnitude of the challenges we now face.

KPMG’s recently published Healthcare Horizons report suggests that the answer may lie in a shift to a more inclusive healthcare system; one that uses technology and partnerships to transform care and empower the workforce. High levels of community involvement, effective public-private partnerships and the strategic use of technology would combine to provide high-quality, tailored care and earlier interventions to prevent and treat ill health.

The report also paints two other possible scenarios. The first sees a return to pre-pandemic business as usual, with a continued reliance on outdated models of care delivery and a conservative, incremental approach to transformation. The second suggests an over-reliance on digital and technological solutions that risks creating a two-tier system where those with digital literacy and wealth receive the highest quality service. Neither of these appears particularly palatable.

The preferred inclusive healthcare scenario would likely be shaped by factors such as consumerism (driving demand for personalised omnichannel experiences) and the growing maturity of artificial intelligence. It would feature employee-centric organisations, micro-credentialising and the borderless delivery of local services, supported by digitally enabled workforces.

Alongside increased pressure for healthcare organisations to address their carbon footprint and climate impact, it would also see communities being activated – and partnerships emerging - to address complex societal challenges.

But what would this mean in practice? Well, imagine our physical and digital worlds colliding, creating a world where patients could use a virtual reality headset and a personalised online program to treat and prevent mental health disorders. Imagine a world where healthcare employee wellbeing is prioritised and where they work at the top of their game because technology has taken on many of their routine tasks.

Imagine a world where complications for pregnant women with diabetes could be predicted and prevented using digital twin simulations. Imagine a situation where patients and communities take charge of their health - with technology involving patients in their own care and allowing healthcare workers to better engage with patients.

Such an inclusive future may only be achieved if current approaches to technology, communities and workforces are fundamentally transformed, underpinned by a commitment to collaboration and collective responsibility.

To do this, NHS leaders will have to shift attention from their organisations’ immediate day-to-day concerns towards the next wave of crises hurtling towards them. Some may already be doing this; others may need support. Either way, something needs to happen now.