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Supporting the NHS 2020

Crisis is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make real change

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Lord Victor Adebowale

Chair, NHS Confederation

The COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge the like of which the NHS – and indeed, the rest of the population – has never witnessed in its more than 70-year history. But the health service and its staff have stepped up to the plate with fortitude, resilience and dedication beyond measure.

The dire predictions at the beginning of the year that the health service would not be able to cope have not come true. Instead, the NHS has adapted and developed at an incredible pace so that it could treat COVID-19 patients while still providing care to millions of non-COVID-19 patients.

Beyond the claps and platitudes, we owe every member of the NHS workforce an incalculable debt of gratitude, especially as their work is far from over. The pandemic has not been defeated yet, and the COVID-19 vaccination programme – which represents both an unprecedented scientific success and a mammoth logistical task – is on the horizon.

We must support our greatest asset

As we said in our report on the workforce during our NHS Reset campaign, our people are our greatest asset. They will need ongoing support as they continue to care for our communities, while also recovering from the trauma of working during a pandemic. NHS organisations have done great work in focusing on staff wellbeing in response to these circumstances, and we look forward to seeing that continue.

We owe every member of the NHS workforce an incalculable debt of gratitude, especially as their work is far from over.

Of course, the pandemic has exposed the cracks in the foundations of the health service – the disproportionate impact on BAME people; gaps in funding; workforce shortages – but in doing so it has given the NHS a historic opportunity not to “return to normal”, but to reset.

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Accelerating meaningful change in the NHS

There have also been some unexpected benefits. There has been less scrutiny and bureaucracy, allowing innovation and decision-making to happen much more rapidly. There has been greater collaboration across organisations, pushing forward the integration of health and social care. Changes that might have taken years have been delivered in weeks.

Now is the time to take action to hold on to these improvements and lessons, so that this crisis does not become merely a page in the history books. Deep-rooted and longstanding issues such as health inequalities have been brought into the spotlight like never before, presenting potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make real and lasting change, to improve the health and quality of life of generations to come.

The road to recovery will be long and fraught, especially as a second wave is now upon us. But the NHS has learned a great deal. As we begin to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel, we cannot allow the lessons learned and the huge transformation that was made possible by these strange and harrowing times to slip away.

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