As we leave the summer, it seems we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic as cases and hospitalisations, while still very low in aggregate, begin to increase. 

Where do things stand?

On the one hand our and others’ polling shows lower public confidence now, compared to May, that the government is doing a good job managing the pandemic, and confusion over the messaging. Clearly the Test and Trace system is not working well enough yet, in particular for high-risk groups such as those in care homes. While the NHS is trying to address the backlog of patients waiting for planned care, the extent of progress will be limited given the prospect of rising cases and hospitalisations, linked to public reluctance to come forward for care for fear of catching the virus, and chronic staff shortages. And on top of all this, there’s the impact of significant administrative changes, for example a planned reorganisation of Public Health England (PHE), a change to the financial regime in the NHS, and of course the upcoming effects of Brexit, whatever the deal struck.

On the other hand, clearly a lot has been learned since last March which will strengthen the response to the pandemic during the winter. For example, how to treat patients, how to shift care successfully to other settings (such as virtual), and how best to separate the care for patients with and without COVID-19 safely. There is also much more information available for analysis as to the impact of government restrictions, the extent of cases, hospitalisations and deaths, which individuals and groups are most vulnerable and why, and how best to test, trace and isolate these locally. A huge amount of research funding has been directed to answering these questions. And then of course there is the promise of better treatment, a vaccine, a contact tracing app that works… and even a new mass testing regime… Or is that all moonshot moonshine? 

How can we contribute?

In the light of all of this, how best can the Health Foundation contribute? Organisations like ours are not at the front line of managing the pandemic. In short, our contribution is to provide robust independent analysis and support in the here and now, and to maintain focus on medium to longer-term issues.

This involves a wide spectrum of analysis. At one end is simply documenting what has actually happened and when (as in the case of our COVID-19 policy tracker, our analysis of social care and COVID-19 and our new long read on the test and trace system). This will surely help in any future inquiry.

In the middle are regular summaries of evidence on key topics (such as our regular updates on the impact of COVID-19 on inequalities in health, and what is happening to performance standards in the NHS). 

At the other is innovative quantitative analysis showing new insights (such as analysis on excess mortality, and social care mortality and hospitalisations and our grant funded responsive research programme into COVID-19). New offers for the autumn include the launch in early October of an inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on inequalities in health, chaired by Clare Moriarty.

Support takes a number of forms from helping DHSC on the future of the health improvement functions of PHE, to coordinating with others to develop analysis on funding requirements for the NHS, social care and wider health, to working with our Q Community and the NHS Confederation in the NHS Reset Campaign, to grant funding programmes of innovation.

And we are active on medium and longer-term issues. On 16 October we launch the new REAL Centre with a lecture from Sir Andrew Dilnot and panel discussion. The REAL Centre (Research and Economic Analysis for the Long term) is devoted to analysing the resources the NHS and social care will need for the next 15–20 years. On 24 September we hosted a Foundation webinar on policymaking for the long term, and we’re also embarking on a new programme of work to map and inform the longer-term COVID-19 research agenda. And in October we launch a podcast series on key policy issues, first in line being Jeremy Hunt’s reflections on what makes a good Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Organisations like the Health Foundation are needed more than ever at times like these, as the demand for our offer is showing. We hope you’ll find our upcoming work useful and as always please get in touch with ideas on how we can work together to shape the future.

Jennifer Dixon (@JenniferTHF) is Chief Executive of the Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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