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COVID-19 represents an unprecedented challenge to health and care services, bringing intense pressure and radical change to systems, organisations and to all of us as individuals. As a foundation with a mission to improve health and health care, we want to help. Jennifer Dixon sets out our foundation-wide approach in her latest blog. I focus here on the contribution that our work supporting improvement on the front line in health care is making.

Practical support and actionable insights

Our guiding aim for our improvement work in this period is to provide practical support and actionable insights, accelerating the use of innovations and improvement approaches that can make a practical difference today, as well as drawing out and sharing learning that is useful now and valuable over the longer-term. 

Amid rapid change, our commitment to supporting improvement will remain constant. The pace of developments is already demonstrating the critical value of approaches that enable rapid adaptation and learning at speed in the face of the unknown. This means using information from multiple sources to find solutions to emerging challenges, testing quickly, observing and refining, and testing again. 

While many improvement programmes will understandably be put into hibernation to prioritise the immediate response to COVID-19, the knowledge, skills and commitment of improvers will be being put to work every day. Where the Health Foundation has people, programmes and knowledge that can help those efforts, we will do so.

Sharing knowledge and rapidly building evidence

We anticipate that the main ways we can help will be: sharing knowledge; connecting people and enabling learning between systems; rapidly building evidence for practice; supporting our current and future fellows, grant holders, Q members and partners; and providing direct support from Health Foundation staff to the response.  

A primary role we have is sharing the knowledge we’ve gained as a funder of innovative grants, fellowships and evaluations that can help now. For example, in this newsletter we highlight three projects on virtual consultations funded by the Foundation that are now being spread rapidly in Scotland, Wales and England. We also feature an interview with Professor Trish Greenhalgh, who has evaluated work on remote consultations we are funding with a team at Barts Health NHS Trust, and is a leading figure in the efforts to convene partners to mobilise the rapid scale-up of these approaches.  

Our colleagues at The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute are providing research support to the NHS across a range of clinical areas. They’ll be working with staff and patients to build and share good practice guidance. The Institute will also develop and evaluate novel approaches to dealing with the knock-on effects of COVID-19, including for patient groups whose usual care is disrupted or displaced.

Direct support for the NHS response

We know that platforms for learning between individuals, teams and organisations bringing improvement expertise to bear on the challenges related to COVID-19 will be in demand, as experimentation takes place and knowledge builds. The main way we will support this is through the Q community, which connects improvers across the UK. We’ve been talking to country partners in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland about how best to do this, and my colleague Penny Pereira has set out our initial thinking.

At the same time, we will support our current and future fellows and grant holders. In recognition of the additional pressure on many working in health and care, where possible we will be adapting the timelines for our funding opportunities. Our programme teams are getting in touch with current grant holders, and will be prepared to be as adaptable as we can in terms of revising current plans, allowing financial flexibility, and adjusting reporting deadlines. We know that initiatives which require time out for staff to attend training, for example, will need to be put on hold in the near-term. In all cases, we’ll work with you to find solutions – be assured of our ongoing commitment to working with you.

Finally, several clinically-trained Health Foundation staff are also directly supporting the NHS response. This includes my colleague Dominique Allwood, Assistant Director of Improvement, who is switching her time to focus on her role as Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Quality Improvement at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and James De Boisanger, who is pausing his clinical fellowship with us to support emergency planning work at NHS England. We’re very grateful to them and all our colleagues who are putting their skills to work at the sharp end of this immense challenge.

Our response will of course evolve over time. But in whatever we do, we’ll act in ways that avoid creating additional complexity, and do everything we can to eliminate additional burden on individuals and organisations at this time of fierce and relentless pressure for so many. 

We remain, now more than ever, proud to play a part in supporting the extraordinary people who devote themselves to the health and care of others.  

Will Warburton (@willwarburtonHF) is Director of Improvement at 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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