Weathering A Pandemic And Preparing For The Next Outbreak: Getting UK Hospitals Ready

Komal Mathur

The coronavirus outbreak, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), has put a huge strain on certain industries. Obviously, healthcare is at the forefront, along with pharma and research. They are reacting to the crisis by accessing information, creating understanding and insights, and trying to predict the ways in which it will affect patients, vulnerable groups, and the healthcare infrastructure itself.

The National Health Service (NHS) is gearing up to tackle the growing threat of a COVID-19 outbreak at a time when our health service is already strained. To respond to the current situation in the most appropriate way, NHS announced that hospitals should cancel all non-urgent surgeries for at least three months starting 15 April. The operational aim is to expand critical care capacity to the maximum and free up around 30,000 of England’s 100,000 general and acute beds. Such actions are unprecedented in the history of NHS.

Independent healthcare providers in the UK, like Spire Healthcare, have postponed some services based on new guidance from the Department of Health. They may see a softening of demand for elective surgeries from self-pay and insured patients, as the patients may want to avoid non-urgent contact at this time. At the same time, the independent sector has been called in to help NHS cope with this crisis. There are reports that the government will pay £2.4 million-a-day for the use of 8,000 private hospital beds to relieve pressure on the NHS as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies. Therefore, the independent sector is also likely to play a crucial role in managing the situation.

In this blog, I’ll highlight what actions hospitals and providers can take immediately and in the coming weeks and months to manage the current situation and be prepared for the next, inevitable outbreak.

Understand, protect, and enable employees

Communication with employees with the right level of specificity and frequency is quite important to understand the pulse of employees in a crisis. Workplace communication improves employee morale, productivity, and commitment, and software can be used to communicate effectively with employees for different purposes. For example, mass emails can be sent to employees to convey important messages. Beginning immediately, some employee experience management (XM) tools are free and publicly available for all organizations. These tools will help organizations understand how their employees are doing and what support they need as they adapt to new work environments, helping to close experience gaps and maintain continuity. In just four days, thousands of organizations signed up for one free XM Solution.

To manage the patient care demand, staff may need refresher/customized training to provide all the extra care that may be required due to COVID-19. NHS Trusts and independent hospitals can deliver training to all clinical and patient-facing staff using mobile/handheld devices anytime and anywhere. Once the staff is adequately trained, they can take care of COVID-19 patients; keep themselves safe by using proper protection; support patients who need respiratory support; and begin setting up makeshift intensive care wards. To help support organizations, a completely free remote readiness and productivity academy provides training content for anyone, anytime, anywhere. The ready-to-watch video-based courses are designed to help mental wellness for workers, maintain the highest levels of hygiene, and develop leadership during times of change and challenge.

Technology can also help in identifying business-critical positions, making replacement plans, and managing the increased need for care staff. Hospitals can quickly optimize their use of external workers/contractors by hiring, onboarding, and training a large number of people quickly so they are up to speed to manage the surge in demand at a short notice.

Each hospital must develop a plan of not only finding more beds but also finding the staff to staff those beds. Some reports suggest that recently retired medics or those on a career break may be asked to return to NHS to handle the current situation. This could work out, provided onboarding and safety procedures are handled effectively. To manage the coordination of these efforts, free-of-charge collaboration software can be used for project and task management to help teams spend less time on admin and more on execution.

However, in the long term and with proper planning, such actions shouldn’t be needed if recruitment and retention of NHS clinicians are priorities. There are various solutions available to do strategic workforce planning and plan employee succession, development and performance, to build a strong workforce.

Patient management to experience management

“Ready to discharge” patients occupied an average of 3,450 beds a day in acute hospitals in January 2020, which means a total of 160,637 bed days were lost to people who did not need to be there. When a hospital is flooded with more critically ill patients than it can handle, more patients die.

By planning and coordinating with community health providers, acute providers can urgently discharge patients who do not need to be in the hospital. Hospital trusts manage as many as 8 million outpatient appointments every month. The current situation necessitates a surge in telemedicine, remote screening, and remote patient management to free up doctors’ time. Health engagement tools allow patients to closely interact with their caregivers without seeing the caregiver in the physician’s office. Patients can take an active, involved role in their journey, and physicians can access real-time insights that can be used to intervene when needed to improve patient outcomes.

Stablilize the supply chain

The healthcare supply chain is increasingly globally integrated, and COVID-19 has affected supply chain dynamics across China and other parts of the world. Pharma manufacturing is a case in point. A parliamentary report on the impact of Brexit on the pharmaceutical sector, published in May 2018, highlighted that 80 to 90% of generic medicines used in the NHS are imported, with China and India in the top five providers of UK medicines outside of the EU.

People in intensive care units need all kinds of specialized equipment, such as IV pumps, ventilators, and different kinds of monitors. Healthcare workers are going to need personal protective equipment (PPE) – FFP3 masks, goggles, gowns – because if they can’t protect themselves, more and more of them will start to fall sick. Doctors in Italy are already making equipment choices (e.g., ventilator versus bag valve mask) based on a patient’s age and likelihood of survival. The government has released its national stockpile of protective gear held back for pandemics and urged UK manufacturers to regear factories to build ventilators for the NHS.

Swift changes in demand across multiple geographies require agile actions: inventory optimization, route optimization, transportation optimization, and demand prediction and sensing are crucial more than ever.

For the next 90 days, a procurement discovery tool is available free of charge, so any buyer can post their immediate sourcing needs, and any supplier can respond to show they can deliver. Buyers and suppliers will connect quickly and effectively and minimize disruption caused by shipment delays, capacity issues, and increased consumer demand in times of crisis.

Such tools can help make the connections to keep the supply chain intact, which will ultimately have an impact on the everyday lives of consumers. For example, SAP Ariba solutions has helped a client secure 500 hospital beds in just 30 minutes.

For the longer term, NHS could look at alternative sourcing methods and suppliers to diversify the supply base and reduce extensive expediting costs.

Travel and spend management

The virus is demonstrating the need for travel to be managed holistically for employees. NHS and independent sector providers have a duty of care and therefore need to know where their people are to support and help them.

Healthcare workers must leave their homes and family and may also need the alternative option of staying in NHS-reimbursed hotel accommodations while they continue to work – away from their families. To ease the burden, the pro version of TripIt, a travel management service , is available to individual users free-of-charge for six months, whether they are new to the service and sign up by April 14 or are existing basic users. This offer aims to make things a little easier for care workers.

Mobilize hospital control centers

Better management of contagions requires planning, collaboration, and a comprehensive, systemic approach within each hospital. A hospital “control center” can operate like an air traffic control center in an airport, using advanced technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to efficiently move patients coming into and going out of the hospital. It can also provide more accurate predictions about demand; enable real-time information about staffing constraints and bed, operation theatre/equipment availability; manage discharge planning; and improve the flow of information. With this advanced functionality, hospitals should be able to treat more patients, cut waiting time, improve the patient experience, and reduce pressure on staff.

Establishing such a command center depends on the availability of clean data in digital format, but for the digitally mature NHS trusts, this should be achievable in the medium term.

Remain true to purpose

Finally, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, NHS has been true to its purpose of serving patients and advancing the health of the nation. As we brace for months of heightened risk from the disease, this outbreak may change the healthcare sector and the world economy for the years ahead. Together, we can make this change a positive one.

Learn more about how organizations can help people respond better to the COVID-19 crisis in Dealing With Disruption: A Digital Nudge.

This article originally appeared on SAP Community.


Komal Mathur

About Komal Mathur

Komal Mathur is a Value Advisor at SAP, serving UK healthcare customers. She is extremely passionate about the healthcare industry and deeply believes in the potential of technology to transform patient outcomes. She translates customer business strategies into seamless solution offerings. Komal also guides customers through critical choices of solutions and platforms, translating them into compelling investments.