Covid-19 collaboration points the way forward
Coronavirus has challenged the UK’s healthcare infrastructure in ways never experienced before. What the pandemic has revealed is the potential for greater collaboration between the independent sector and the country’s public health system.
So, what could this more collaborative future look like? And how does talent fit into it? For an inside take on these issues, we talked to Tony Veverka, CEO of Transform Hospital Group, one of the independent providers that has stepped up to support NHS Trusts at a local level.
Tony, first could you tell us a little about Transform Hospital Group?
We’re a leading provider of medical aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, and surgical and non-surgical weight loss solutions. We look after around 500 patients a week at our two state-of-the-art hospitals – Burcot Hall in Birmingham and The Pines in Manchester – and through our nationwide network of 25 clinics.
How did your services switch when the pandemic struck?
In a matter of days, we were able to repurpose the facilities at Burcot Hall to support the NHS. Within two weeks, our nursing and ancillary support team accessed essential training provided by colleagues at NHS Worcester Health and Care Trust (WHCT).
We then provided our ventilator capacity to the NHS for use in the Midlands and North West. That helped manage the peak of infections and took patients from WHCT’s acute service who would normally have been transferred to a community hospital once medically fit for discharge. I have huge admiration for our team’s speed in responding to help the NHS in its time of need.
Have you continued to provide support since?
Yes, once the initial Covid-19 patients had been safely discharged, our Burcot Hall hospital was repurposed to become a ‘cold site’ to accommodate NHS urgent and elective procedures, including cancer surgery.
Burcot Hall is also one of the country’s leading facilities for bariatric surgery, an increasingly important procedure for patients suffering from obesity, particularly given the increased risk such patients face from Covid-19. Having invested in additional surgical facilities to boost bariatric capacity, we were pleased to accept our first NHS bariatric patients to Burcot Hall at the end of September after a partnership agreement was reached with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust.
Has the pandemic has changed the way you work and deliver services?
The pandemic certainly opened our eyes to the importance of deeper collaboration across the healthcare sector. Through working closely with the NHS, we adapted our practices in a matter of days at Burcot Hall, with the focus on fast-paced consolidation of learning and cultural change evident throughout the workforce.
If you look at the wider sector, the pandemic brought about unprecedented levels of collaboration between the NHS and independent healthcare providers, creating new ways of working and fostering innovation, whilst maintaining high quality continuity of care. Plus, innovations were expediated, most notably the use of telemedicine and remote consultation.
The spirit of collaboration across all healthcare settings has never been deeper, with trusts and CCGs in constant dialogue with local providers to address the backlog of patients needing treatment.
How do you see this collaboration working? If you could remodel the healthcare service, what steps would you take?
In the health sector, there are different pressures and issues in various regions, and independent providers with different skill mixes and specialities. I believe – both in the immediate term and the long term – that the strength of all public health services should be assessed on a local level, and trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) should be given the autonomy to utilise the independent sector on a case-by-case basis, depending on the services they have at their disposal.
Do you think de-centralisation is the answer?
Yes, creating a system of local collaboration, perhaps within a national framework, will be key to enhancing the patient journey. Greater decentralisation of operational activity can ensure that the requirements of local services and patients are being met.
Whilst steps have been taken in recent years to localise services, such as the introduction of CCGs and trusts, there is opportunity for further structural change to create an even more localised decision-making model which plays to the strengths of all healthcare providers. This “whole systems” approach would allow for collaboration across the whole healthcare system and overturn the traditional divisions between public and private providers.
I was delighted to see my thoughts were echoed by the NHS Confederation’s recent report: NHS Reset: A New Direction for Health and Care. It called for a “whole system culture change” and the creation of a framework which reconciles local and national accountability and allows for autonomy to meet specific local needs.
Where does talent fit in here? What skills do independent providers need to support collaborative working with the NHS?
That’s a very pertinent question. Our business had never provided services to the NHS before Covid. Indeed, all of activity prior to March this year was elective self-pay. The issue for us was less on the clinical side.
What we did need was specialist interim support to fill skills gaps and get us quickly up to speed with the different requirements of providing services to the NHS. This was mostly in the areas of IT and Finance – those skills enabled us to adapt fast and effectively plan our capacity in a ‘mixed economy’ model.
Looking at the sector as a whole, I can envisage independent providers hiring permanent managers and specialists with different experience and skillsets. But I also see a greater need for healthcare interims. I think businesses will need to become more agile and faster paced to meet the healthcare demands of the UK over the next few years. The use of interims to provide additional bandwidth or plug skills gaps will be a very effective use of resources to ensure businesses are able to continuously step up to the plate.
Tony, do you have any final comments to sum up?
At Transform Health Group, we have been hugely proud to play our part in supporting the NHS. Despite the devastating consequences of the pandemic, we have been encouraged by the amount that has been achieved – both in terms of innovation and collaboration.
It has driven home to me that partnerships between independent providers and local NHS authorities – which take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the services available in their regions – are the best way to deliver improvement, both short and long term.
New Street Consulting Group is a leading provider of interim management and leadership talent solutions in the private healthcare sector. We partner with a number of organisations including Transform Group, Bupa, Spire, CareUK and the London Clinic.