Published on in HealthcareInnovation

I think I speak for everyone when I say I am proud of our NHS.

Despite testing circumstances, NHS staff have rallied together over the last few months to provide exceptional healthcare day after day.

But although healthcare workers have stepped up, we have to be honest – the NHS has had a bumpy ride. Going into lockdown, the pressure of COVID-19 threatened to swamp hospitals, bring admission to full capacity, and stretch PPE supply chains to their limits.

Thankfully, the worst-case scenarios didn’t come to fruition.

The service has achieved so much, providing world-class healthcare around the clock, adapting their culture to minimise the spread of infections within hospitals, and ensuring they never once ran out of hospital beds.

While the NHS achieved so much alone, it also had a helping hand from other sectors. The UK Armed Forces in particular did a great job at lending their assistance.

When you look at what the NHS and UK Armed Forces achieved together, it’s pretty incredible. So in this two-part blog series, I want to examine exactly how they collaborated. I then want to go on to consider what the NHS can more broadly learn from other sectors, and how they can adapt to become an even more resilient service going into the future.

Protecting the NHS 

Let’s start by exploring how the NHS and UK Armed Forces worked together.

  1. Building hospitals from scratch

As I said, a lack of hospital beds was a huge concern. To counter this, the NHS planned a project that was unprecedented in ambition: the building of the Nightingale Hospitals.

It was huge success. Out of nowhere, London, for example, suddenly had additional capacity for 4,000 intensive care beds. Most impressive of all, this feat was completed in a mere nine days.

It was a truly remarkable feat of planning and coordination.

While the operation was spearheaded by the NHS, it simply could not have been done without the 200 soldiers that were drafted in each day to help. And it wasn’t just the Nightingale Hospital. Overall, the military assisted in building six hospitals, lending their support in infrastructure, logistics, and project management.

  1. Equipment distribution

Another achievement was the distribution of medical equipment. By drawing on the military’s logistical experience, ventilators could be distributed much more efficiently.

The military were also able to help with the procurement and manufacturing of PPE equipment – something which, because of the strict compliance regulations in place, required extraordinary precision.

  1. Vital training

Finally, the UK Armed Forces delivered training vital to meeting the demands of the pandemic.

The increased usage of ventilators meant hospitals needed a larger supply of oxygen. NHS staff were therefore shown how to safely drive oxygen tankers, and how to deposit cargo at NHS facilities. They were also trained in medical evacuation procedures in case of an emergency.

Lessons to be learned

As you can see, a huge amount has been accomplished in short amount of time.

COVID-19 shone a spotlight on areas that the NHS can improve.  The military’s organisation, efficiency and coordination was instrumental in bolstering operations and allowing the NHS to scale capacity to meet demand.

The last few months have been a fantastic story of resilience – and this is what we need to capture to ensure the NHS’s future.

For example, a study of 1000 nurses showed one-in-three spend an hour or more looking for missing equipment. Inefficacies like these need to be fixed so that nurses spend less time searching for equipment, and more time caring. Going forward we need to look at what we have learned, and not let it go to waste.

COVID-19 has taught us that, in testing times, the NHS can achieve so much. Our healthcare workers have done us proud. It’s now time to look at what we have learned, and use it to make the NHS’s systems and processes even more robust.

So in the next blog in this series, I’ll look at the future of the NHS: what it’s learned from the crisis, and the areas that can be evolved so it becomes an even more agile and resilient service.

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