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Celebrating the NHS: How Can We Ensure It Remains Available for Future Generations?

The NHS is one of the UK’s most valuable assets, and its widespread significance has become even more apparent throughout the past two years due to its role in the battle against Covid-19.

As it is a complex and multi-bodied entity, the safeguarding of the NHS requires tackling a variety of challenges, but the lessons we learned from the Covid-19 crisis have shown it is vital that this institution maintains its reliability and resilience.

Celebrating the work that’s been done by the NHS and its staff – and not only in the past two years - is essential, and with Thank You Day fast approaching on July 4th, we should spotlight the substantial value of the NHS and its contributions.

Here, Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services (Unimed), discusses the challenges faced by the NHS and the importance of ensuring the institution remains available for future generations.

What makes the NHS so valuable?

Having access to essential medical services effectively protects individuals, keeping them safe and healthy, which makes dependable healthcare systems paramount.

Further, when considering that over 100 million individuals are driven into poverty each year due to out-of-pocket healthcare-related expenses, the value of universal healthcare becomes even more evident. And despite the enormous strain the pandemic placed on the NHS, it remains a reliable and efficient service, consistently earning top marks for safety and patient care.

More than that, the NHS plays a significant role within the UK’s society and economy at a national and local level, employing millions of individuals, purchasing a high amount of goods and land and consistently investing in training and education for its existing workforce.

The link between health and wealth is a particularly important one, as having access to a reliable healthcare system allows populations to thrive, becoming more economically active: this makes the NHS an anchor institution capable of influencing the wellbeing of the population.

Preserving the NHS’s role within society and the economy should be a priority for the UK Government, yet the operational pressures it is currently facing may just require more than revisiting the budget dedicated to the institution.

The challenges faced by the NHS

The complexity of the NHS as an entity means there is plenty to be considered in order to create a strategy that improves efficiency.

The NHS’s decentralised model means that it comprises different organisations that operate independently from one another. Issues within its supply chain were the source of the shortage of supplies we experienced during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and though staff – and those working within supply chain operations - were not equipped to deal with such a surge in demand at the time, we can certainly learn from our mistakes.

As NHS Supply Chain – a separate entity - sources, delivers and supplies healthcare products for the NHS - currently managing over eight million orders per year, we can easily imagine how the unexpected extra requirements stemming from the pandemic caused such critical problems for the organisation.

Working with over 930 suppliers naturally means there are extra challenges involved when it comes to quality assurance, product safety and product innovation. And yet, if we are to learn from the Covid-19 equipment shortage crisis, our focus should be on increasing the resilience of the supply chains that serve NHS trusts in order to be prepared for future challenges and preserve the NHS’ strength and influence.

Managing resources efficiently undoubtedly starts with partnering with dependable and trusted suppliers, but it also involves identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the supply chain’s overall operational model and making improvements as a result. A proactive approach involves being able to promptly deal with supply disruptions or safety complaints and intervene accordingly.

Ultimately, the priority should be on ensuring the NHS can safely and efficiently provide care to patients, as well as developing a stable system that ensures future stability.

How can we keep the NHS available for future generations?

The challenges faced by the NHS go beyond supply chain issues, extending to those deriving from population growth, evolving healthcare needs, the added cost of medical advancements and more.

The NHS’s issues with funding are well-documented, having become a problem long before Covid-19. However, the pandemic significantly exacerbated the backlog of care in England, with the number of individuals on a waiting list for care having gone from 4.43 million people – prior to the pandemic – to over 6.48 million as of April 2022.

As this backlog continues to grow to this day, our aim should be to increase surgical capacity, effectively shortening the long waiting lists for patients requiring lifesaving operations and treatment.

Investing in the NHS is crucial not only to avoid the widespread repercussions that delays in providing healthcare can have, but also to avoid the privatisation of services. Private healthcare has already been discussed as a potential solution, yet the UK Government needs a long-term plan for the NHS that doesn’t involve relying on private entities as a solution.

And with the staffing crisis unlikely to improve any time soon, the institution is under pressure in more than one way, making its recovery a long process that will require a dedicated plan capable of improving its performance and efficiency.

Preserving the NHS as a public entity providing universal health coverage ultimately protects individuals in a variety of ways, avoiding financial hardship and ensuring care is provided in an accessible way, avoiding inequalities.

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