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Health services vital in rebuilding local economies after Covid-19

It’s impossible to switch on the news without hearing about how Covid-19 has affected the economy but what may be less well known is the part that the NHS could play in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

Last week, government spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), illustrated the severity of the problem saying its “optimistic scenario” is that unemployment peaks at 9.7 per cent this year and returns to pre-crisis levels in 2022.

In the OBR’s least optimistic scenario, it peaks at 13.2%, in 2021 - with four million people out of work. It is still at 6.3% by the end of this scenario in 2024, well above pre-crisis levels.

Health services have a vital role to play in the recovery and rebuilding of our local economies and communities – driving up prosperity, population health and wellbeing – in the wake of Covid-19. 

This will involve transforming public service planning and delivery at a time of unprecedented economic and social disruption – pushing the NHS to understand its impact and value as local anchor organisations, or major employers in local areas, well beyond traditional sectoral boundaries. It will also mean using the system approach now emerging to drive up population health and wellbeing. 

The health service’s crucial role in the economic and social recovery is explored within an NHS Confederation NHS Reset report published today.

The report, Health as the new Wealth: The NHS’ role in economic and social recovery, highlights the strength of the links between health and growth, outlines a five-point plan for every system to build on to maximise their local impact and influence, and showcases innovative practice which is supporting lasting local change.

The five-point plan identifies steps the NHS can take in every local economy. It recommends:

  • Developing an anchor network across all health and care bodies within the system footprint,
  • Making an explicit commitment to fill existing health and care vacancies with local people,
  • Embedding health and care within national and local regeneration planning,
  • Proposing a Civic Restoration Strategy, and,
  • Convening industry leaders to source potential new local supply chains

The report also makes clear that there is a role for both national government and our health and care systems to support and embed this work. The recommendations draw heavily on work undertaken in the last few months to bring this five-point plan to life. In particular, this includes the NHS Confederation’s joint report with Yorkshire Academic Health Science Network and Yorkshire Universities which called for more health-related investment in geographic areas to further the government’s levelling-up agenda and a report with the Independent Commission on the College of the Future calling on Government for funding to embed the NHS into colleges to encourage domestic recruitment.

It is important that the actions suggested in the five-point plan do not unnecessarily add further demands, complexity and strain on a health service already stretched to breaking point. We strongly believe they are in fact the beginning of a new way of approaching public service delivery which talks about investment rather than efficiency savings, collaboration rather than institutional barriers and place-based rather than sector driven.

The impact of Covid-19 will reverberate throughout communities on a previously unimaginable scale, requiring sustained action from national and local leaders across every sector. While health and care services have achieved so much in such a short space of time, the bigger wins may be about to follow – driving up prosperity, population health and wellbeing.

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NHE365 Virtual Festival: Net-Zero NHS

As was outlined by Sir Simon Stevens when the NHS announced their green plans back in 2020, 5,700 lives could be saved each year by improved air quality. Even more could see their overall health improve and be in a position to self-manage their conditions, rather than requiring NHS treatment. Covid-19 has already left the NHS with a sizeable treatment backlog, so anything which can be done to improve patient health and reduce demand is beneficial for all.

Working together, we can help the NHS realise its green ambitions as per the Net-Zero National Health Service report and its ambitious 2040 target. Join us on August 25, 2021 for our Net-Zero NHS event, where we will be joined by health sector leaders and innovators for a day of sharing best practice and networking.

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