How could innovative solutions support the private acute healthcare sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?

The private acute healthcare sector has faced a number of re-occurring challenges during recent years. An increasing number of patients are seeking surgical treatments such as elective care procedures. There is also the ongoing difficulty of remaining financially competitive in a highly competitive field. To further compound these long-standing challenges, the industry also faces the impending problem of continuing to supply high-level staff across the sector alongside dealing with the wider long-term issues that COVID-19 and Brexit will create. Whilst the NHS seems to have experienced the greatest impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is that private acute healthcare is also suffering.

Capacity for the private acute healthcare sector has been a growing problem for a number of years. There is an increasing demand for private treatment for surgical procedures and elective care due to postponed NHS treatments, which has resulted in capacity issues for organisations. The potential for reputational damage must also be taken into account. People turning to private healthcare expect a far higher standard of care combined with a quicker service. As private healthcare continues to face increased demand combined with limited capacity, there is a risk that quality of patient care will be affected. This may create a further challenge, as patients may choose not to use the services after all.

There is also growing concern across the private sector regarding how to continue supplying the highly trained staff needed to support private healthcare. COVID-19 has resulted in a far less secure workforce. Staff are faced with complex and ever-changing restrictions and regulations in the workplace that are hindering capacity, whilst illness and self-isolation is reducing availability. Brexit is another factor that poses a significant threat to private healthcare; the uncertainty connected to the future of the immigration system in the UK is causing massive delays in visa approvals for overseas staff, resulting in a reduction of healthcare professionals entering the UK. These factors, combined with existing shortages, means the sector faces a potential staffing crisis.

Private acute healthcare functions within a competitive financial context that is reasonably different to the NHS. Private healthcare providers must maintain their profitability and financial viability, meaning they are constantly seeking ways to gain a financial edge over their competitors. The competitive nature of the sector creates an incentive for less transparency as organisations seek to ensure their competitors are not ‘catching up’ with them. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. With the UK economy reportedly shrinking more than it has done in 65 years, we currently face a disastrous recession that places almost every sector at risk, making it extremely difficult to compete on finances.

The effects of COVID-19 will likely be expansive and long-term, with bleak prospects for many businesses for the next few years. It is inevitable that COVID-19 will negatively impact the private acute healthcare sector, as it will do every section of society. The question we must now ask is: how will the sector resolve the challenges it currently faces in order to prosper?

At HealthTrust Europe, we believe the answer is in innovative solutions for healthcare. Working collaboratively with our suppliers, outsourcing where possible and using smart real-time platforms to source materials and services are approaches which could help the private sector to address some of the current challenges it faces.

If we take the first issue – a rising demand for surgeries and elective care treatments – and examine how we can increase capacity whilst ensuring the right level of care is delivered to patients, the answer lies within outsourcing some of the processes that do not require consultants. For example, histopathology testing and mobile diagnostic imaging are both crucial in the treatment of elective patients. These are services that can be easily outsourced using external suppliers under a trusted and secure framework. By doing so, we relieve some of the demand for consultants in private hospitals and free up their time to perform vital surgeries and procedures. Outsourcing can also result in quicker appointments and results screening, meaning patients receive the quick, high-quality care they expect from private healthcare – protecting the reputation of the sector despite the challenges it faces.

The ability to continue supplying vital staff across the private healthcare sector is likely to be the biggest challenge the sector faces. To ensure a consistent supply of staff, organisations should seek to explore options such as outsourcing and adopting innovative technologies to support quick and efficient recruitment. Earlier this year, we expanded our Total Workforce Solutions Framework to include measures that support private healthcare organisations with staffing needs throughout the pandemic. The Framework now has a primarily digital focus, allowing organisations to make use of secure video-hosted technology which streamlines the recruitment process whilst ensuring the maximum safety of staff. The introduction of ‘Surge Staffing’ solutions has helped bolster staff supply chains by allowing organisations access to an expansive pool of high-level agency workers. Our Workforce Solutions are also cost-controlled, meaning you can select solutions that align to your organisation’s unique financial budgets, ensuring you are always protected on cost.

Remaining financially competitive in the current climate will be also be a significant challenge. However, there are innovative tools that can support private organisations to do so without consuming hours of precious time. In the current context, it is absolutely key to streamline where possible to save staff hours and maximise capacity. HealthTrust Europe recently launched Elite360 – a comprehensive, intuitive, digital platform that allows our customers quick and easy access to a huge range of products and services – as a tool for streamlining procurement. Elite360 enables customers to compare products and services, ensuring they are constantly accessing the best products for the best prices. This allows organisations to be as financially competitive as possible whilst reducing the time spent on research and price comparisons. The platform is easy to use and can enable private organisations to remain competitive, as our suppliers regularly update their services, products and prices, meaning This means our customers can avoid any sudden increases in price and ensure their supply chains are never at risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic will be undeniably difficult for the private health sector. However, innovative tools and systems do exist to support the healthcare sector through the pandemic. If the private healthcare sector is able to utilise the breadth of services available to support with capacity, sourcing, staffing and more during the pandemic they will be in the best possible position to face the demanding time ahead.