Culture wars surrounding lockdowns and revelations of rule breaking during the pandemic have ‘sapped our will’ to learn from Covid, the NHS Confederation’s chief executive has said.
Additionally, the Government is too ‘embarrassed’ about worsening waiting lists and poor GP access to engage with the public on how the NHS should deliver care, Matthew Taylor said.
Engaging with the public – who proved to be willing to support the NHS during the pandemic – should from the basis of a new social contract for the health system, he concluded.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine’s annual Stevens Lecture last night (15 May), Mr Taylor said: ‘We were so determined that our response to the terrible sacrifice and suffering of the pandemic would be to make a world a better place. But time, events, Downing Street parties, lockdown culture wars seem to have sapped our will.’
But, he added, the NHS and the Government should recommit to that learning, which illustrated that a public who were engaged with their healthcare led to a more secure emergency response, with patients willing to take regular diagnostic tests or form partnerships to reach disadvantage cohorts.
‘And we learnt that with a clear and shared sense of purpose and the right infrastructure, local leaders and organisations could find their own solutions and act on them with speed and creativity,’ he said.
He later added: ‘Nobody wishes that pandemic back but it was pretty remarkable what the vast majority of the public did to protect our health, and we let that conversation dial back. I think part of the reason is because politicians – or the Government, at least, feel embarrassed about waiting lists and GP access. But we have to have that conversation.’
Health leaders must be empowered to ‘knock on doors’ and engage patients in the NHS to avoid perpetual crisis management, he said.
Mr Taylor also said that accountability in the NHS should be inverted, with services oriented around empowering patients to manage their own health.
And every ICS should aim to have a portfolio of social investment projects in which upfront money generates a return through reducing demand.