Let's hold on to what we've learned

By John O'Brien | 07 July 2020

In times like these, it is easy to forget things that less than three months ago were all-consuming. Early in April, the quest to help expand hospital capacity for COVID-19 cases was an overriding preoccupation.

Like many others, I sat in meetings staring anxiously at graphs being shared on Teams screens by NHS colleagues, showing when the lines for demand would cross over the best and worse case lines for potential capacity. Without feeling any complacency about what further waves of the virus could yet bring, we feel in a different place today.

There will be conclusions to be drawn about the wider national policy parameters, particularly in respect of the safety of care homes and their residents.

The broader work councils were involved in was a vital element in helping ensure hospitals did not breach acute care capacity – whether that was enhancing home care support, market insight, mitigation planning for provider failure or joint modelling with NHS colleagues.

Beyond that, the invention of an entirely new shielding service to support those needing to isolate due to medical conditions, as well as other vulnerable people, and helping thousands of rough sleepers off the streets also played an important part.

Going forward, it is important that learning from this collaboration is embedded in plans for dealing with further waves of the virus. Operational and behavioural change has occurred at neighbourhood, borough and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships/Integrated Care Systems system levels.

For all of the enormous and well documented challenges, people at the front line have achieved remarkable things at pace and scale. We have to hold on to that and ensure this learning features as part of the future. In doing that, it is important the dialogue does not fall back to being an unbalanced one. Reforms to acute provision are, of course, important. So too is out-of-hospital and community care if the acute system is to be resilient and sustainable. We also need to complement what has happened at wider area levels with a focus on integration at the level of individual councils and often smaller than that.

Effective renewal and recovery demands that these preoccupations remain front and centre – not just for the next three months – but for the years ahead.

John O’ Brien is chief executive of London Councils

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