Victor Adebowale, chair of the NHS Confederation, reflects on the past months while seeing what needs to be done in the months ahead.
The last nine months have been an experience like no other for the health and care service and it is only right that I begin with a heartfelt thank you to all of you for what you are doing to support the country during the greatest crisis of a generation.
Since becoming your chair in April, every member of the NHS Confederation who I have spoken to has told me how flat out they and their teams are working to respond to this pandemic while keeping the rest of the show on the road. We know that things are likely to get worse before they get better with numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalisations continuing to rise and we are heading towards what is likely to be a phenomenally busy winter period.
It will be tough and we are here for you as your membership body. We will continue to help you tell your story nationally, represent your shared interests, help you make sense of key developments, and create spaces for you to engage with one another. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that the health service is incredibly resilient, forward-thinking, innovative, and committed to doing what is right for its patients. It is your system leadership that has got us this far, connecting beyond organisational boundaries, building consensus and uniting with that common purpose, all while things change around you.
It will be mission critical over the next six months that we maintain the discipline that has been hard earned to meet the demands of this unexpected crisis and that we hold our political leaders to account in their decision making.
We are going to need the help of every member to do this, but we are well placed. The rich feedback and contact we have with you, our membership, gives us that clarity of purpose and the fuel to act on your behalf, so do stay in touch with us.
Already we have successfully lobbied for things like asymptomatic staff testing (and earlier than that priority testing for staff and their families), the supply and guidance around PPE, the need for local public health experts to be involved in contact tracing and the suspension of routine CQC inspections during the first wave.
I am writing this having just spoken at the PCN Network’s and NHS Clinical Commissioners’ virtual annual conferences this week, where there was a lot of energy and rich discussion about how we reverse the inverse care law, address workforce issues, ensure resources are allocated where they are needed, and of course, about the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
The NHS has proven experience in managing mass immunisation programmes but the circumstances we are in, the timescales, and the several unknowns make this a challenge like no other. I have heard directly of your commitment to work across boundaries to deliver for patients and we will work with you to ensure you have the tools and information you need and that where services may have to be reconfigured temporarily, that the professional judgement of your expert teams to do what is right for your patients takes priority.
The prize is population health for all of our communities and we need to keep our eyes on it. The vaccine roll out will be a key test of whether we have paid attention to the needs of everybody. For example, there is already evidence that one in three of the BME population are unlikely to take the vaccine. Understanding why and looking at the ways we communicate will be key.
I am looking forward to working and hearing from you over the next few months as we continue that journey.
In the coming weeks, we will be continuing our conversations with the Department of Health and Social Care about future healthcare reforms, as well as with the leaders of NHS England and NHS Improvement, ensuring your voices are heard. Also, we will be moving towards our new offer to our members and our NHS Reset Conference on 24 November, which will give you a chance to draw a line under the learnings of the last six months and explore how we can lock-in those positive changes. If you haven’t registered already, I would encourage you to join me in attending.
We have been influencing on your behalf as we head towards the government’s Spending Review and expect to do more of this next week to make sure the resources are there and that the government recognises that the financial settlement awarded to the NHS for the Long Term Plan was in a different era and must be revisited as the future of the sector depends on it. We will also continue to fight the corner of social care, asking not “how to we fix it?” but “why has it taken so long?”.
So, again, thank you for all you are doing. Now is the time to stay focussed and push on.
Lord Victor Adebowale is chair of the NHS Confederation. Follow him and the organisation on Twitter @Voa1234 @nhsconfed