Insights / Seven lockdown learnings from the healthcare sector

Seven lockdown learnings from the healthcare sector

Healthcare workers have been at the front line of the pandemic. Their efforts have been recognised by millions who clapped for carers, but how have healthcare businesses coped during this challenging period? Here are some learnings based on what care providers in the BGF portfolio have experienced to date.

Maintaining staff levels has been tricky

With healthcare workers needing to self-isolate after potential exposure to the virus, it has been hard to maintain staff levels at a time when facilities have needed them most. In addition, some facilities have prevented healthcare workers transferring between services to help limit the spread of the disease. Pre-Covid, it was typical practice for staff to cover absences by transferring between services, so this has created operational challenges. On the positive side, the pandemic has raised the profile of healthcare workers and put a spotlight on the valuable work they do.

Efforts to boost morale have been essential, successful and not only monetary

In this difficult environment, management teams have had to be smart about raising morale, especially among workers who have themselves been unwell. As an addition or alternative to financial rewards, some have set up measures including: company-sponsored video calls on aerobics, nutrition and stress management; access to therapy in all its forms; and personal phone calls from leaders to offer the “human touch”, making sure staff know their contribution is valued. These measures can help to reduce churn among staff to levels well below the pre-Covid average and see improved productivity.

The profile of care home residents has changed with implications for occupancy

The pandemic has inevitably disrupted occupancy levels in care homes. Those who require nursing have continued to be admitted, but the families of people with less complex needs – low-level dementia, for example – have often chosen to look after relatives at home during the crisis. That’s understandable at a time when care homes have not always been able to allow visits, and when home working and the furlough scheme have given families a greater ability than usual to provide care themselves. The pandemic has also disrupted the usual pathways for patients who are discharged from hospital, creating logistical challenges that healthcare businesses have had to overcome.

Maintaining a visiting schedule in the pandemic has required creativity

Residential facilities have tried to offer visits where it is possible and safe to do so. Amid a pandemic, this has required flexible thinking. Facilities may allow visitors to meet residents in covered outdoor areas, such as gazebos. Masks and social distancing measures are still necessary, and for residents with learning difficulties who cannot comprehend or remember the need for social distancing, visits unfortunately have had to be restricted on a case-by-case basis.

Testing hasn’t been as helpful as hoped

Workers in healthcare facilities are at the frontline of testing, typically being tested once a week, while residents of care homes would be tested around every 28 days. However, healthcare facilities have experienced some challenges with the testing regime, such as inconclusive results and false positives – in which case workers are obliged to self-isolate even though they don’t have the disease. The NHS testing system tends to take several days to return results, in which time the virus can easily spread. A thought for the future to improve efficiency would be a testing system that could be administered by healthcare facilities themselves on their own sites, which could have huge benefits.

Brexit has led to concerns over recruitment and supplies

Of course, the pandemic isn’t the only big issue the healthcare sector has to plan for. In the run-up to Brexit, many healthcare businesses have been stockpiling goods they fear may be in short supply after the December 31 deadline, including important medicines and items such as surgical gloves. Brexit also raises numerous questions about recruitment. The cost of recruiting international workers is already high and Brexit seems likely to push it higher. On the other hand, there is an expectation that workers from domestic sectors that have suffered during the pandemic, such as retail or hospitality, will be looking for new jobs soon and could retrain for roles in care.

Vaccines will provide an exit route, and healthcare workers are front of the queue

Although it has been a challenging year, with healthcare businesses put under strain, there is optimism across the sector that Covid-19 vaccines will allow a return to normal visiting schedules, normal occupancy levels, and normal profitability in 2021. Healthcare workers will begin having their jabs in December, though whether they receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine will probably depend on where in the country they work, because the UK has been buying both. The vaccines have given staff hope, and after the year they have had, that’s a blessing.

 

Do you work in the healthcare sector? Have you observed examples of good practice you’d like to share? As our economy recovers from the coronavirus, we think it’s essential to bring together skills, expertise and learnings. Please share your thoughts with us on social media or by email.

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