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Here’s a preview of some of the big things we’ll be working on over the coming year, set out under each of our five strategic priority areas. You can also find out more about how to get involved with our work through our grant and fellowship programmes in 2021.

1. Promoting healthy lives for all 

Our work to promote healthy lives for all aims to change the national conversation to focus on health and wellbeing as important assets for a flourishing society, and to promote national policies that support everyone’s opportunity to live a healthy life. COVID-19 has brought our work on health and the different opportunities we have to stay healthy into sharp relief. Never has this topic been more relevant or important. 

  • Findings from our COVID-19 impact inquiry: This summer will see the publication of an important report from our inquiry, describing the impact of, and impact on, health inequalities in relation to COVID-19 and the wider government and societal response across the UK. This will highlight implications for government decision making and the investment needed to ensure everyone has the best possible opportunity for good health and wellbeing. 
  • Important work from the Collaboration for Wellbeing and Health: This initiative, in which the Health Foundation plans to invest up to £15m over the next six years, brings together a cross-sector network of organisations to take action to address the wider determinants of health. This year the Collaboration will start to use the collective assets of its members to advocate for policies that create and level up health at a national level. We’re planning a high-profile communications campaign, alongside ongoing work by all members to build a better understanding of what’s needed to support people to live a healthy life.  
  • Influencing government decision making on health: Early on in the year we’ll be exploring what is needed for a cross-government strategy to close the health gap, drawing on our analysis and that of others, and encouraging the uptake of the new ONS health index (the beta version is currently open for consultation). Work will continue to influence government and other stakeholders to help shape the future public health system, following the announcement last year that Public Health England will be disbanded. We’ll also be building on the findings from our research into the social and economic value of health by distilling the main insights for policies geared towards keeping people healthy. 
  • Building the evidence on the wider determinants of health and supporting local government: this spring we will launch our What drives health inequalities? evidence hub, featuring in-depth analysis on the trends in factors that have the greatest bearing on our health. As part of the action phase for our Young people’s future health inquiry we are scoping an important new research programme to build evidence about what good emotional support looks like during the ages of 12–24. Two programmes with local government begin work this year: Shaping Places for Healthier Lives, and Economies for Healthier Lives. Jo Bibby explores these programmes in more detail, alongside other work around health inequalities, in her blog this month

2. Data analytics for better health 

We are developing innovative data-driven approaches to improving the quality of care and population health. Recognising that these approaches bring risks as well as opportunities, we are also supporting research and analysis into the steps that need to be taken to ensure that analytics and data-driven technology have a positive impact on everyone’s health. For 2021, we are focusing on themes relating to the use of data to accelerate service improvement, strengthen social care, and tackle health inequalities.  

  • Analysis and support to drive service improvement: Our analysis will continue to provide insights on the opportunities and challenges facing the NHS, and the impact to date of major changes, with regular briefings published throughout the year. For example, look out for analysis due to be published in the summer on hospital admissions from care homes and domiciliary care during COVID-19. Our partnership with Health Data Research UK will see us continue to develop more comprehensive models of learning health systems which will feed into the Health Foundation’s improvement work.  
  • Building a clearer picture of health inequalities: Our analysis will provide insights on ethnic, socioeconomic, gender and intersectional inequalities in health and health care, working with teams across the Health Foundation to build a clear picture and help to influence policy. We will work to instil ‘equality by design’ into data-driven technologies through partnerships with the Ada Lovelace Institute and NHSX.  
  • Analysis to drive change in social care policy: We want to motivate changes to national policy by highlighting how the pandemic is affecting people who need social care. We will also highlight what it’s revealed about the shortcomings of social care data and use this to influence the national data strategy. We will explore a partnership to improve the stewardship of social care data. We’ll also be announcing our five Strengthening Social Care Analytics award holders in February, and sharing learning from the programme over the year. 
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of key initiatives through the Improvement Analytics Unit (IAU): The IAU is our unique partnership with NHS England and NHS Improvement that evaluates the impact of complex initiatives in health care to support evidence-based decision making on key reforms. In 2021 the IAU will deliver analyses relevant to local and national policymakers, including evaluations of digital-first primary care, COVID-19 oximetry at home, integrated care, and multi-disciplinary teams. The IAU will be five years old in March, so we’ll also be reviewing how the unit can be most impactful in the future.  
  • A linked and open approach to data analysis: Our Networked Data Lab (NDL) has created a collaborative network of local analysts in five areas across the UK. Together we will be using linked datasets to address some of the major challenges facing the health and care system. This year will see us conduct our first analyses, starting with an investigation into the quality of health care provided during the pandemic for ‘shielded’ people. We will also share our code and our learning from the project on an ongoing basis.  

3. Supporting improvement 

Improving health service delivery, and spreading what works, are a major part of the solution to the challenges facing the NHS. Our work in improvement aims to make a difference through developing people, giving grants to make improvements at the front line, and building evidence about what works and why. 

  • Sharing our learning to build understanding: 2021 will see new reports from the Health Foundation exploring what needs to be done to sustain and adapt the use of technology implemented during the pandemic, and the potential for practical application of automation in health care. We’ll also be looking at the potential of new workforce models to contribute to a more productive NHS, and exploring the factors that can support or hinder implementation and success on the ground. And watch out for a refreshed version of our popular quick guide Quality improvement made simple
  • News about our Social Care Evidence Centre: The Health Foundation is working with the Economic and Social Research Council to create a new centre aiming to increase the use of high-quality research evidence to improve and support innovation within adult social care. This centre will be co-designed with the sector in 2021, with a leadership team recruited by the spring, followed by its launch in 2022.  
  • Enabling people to make change: 2021 will mark our first full year funding four partnerships as part of our new Common Ambition programme. The programme aims to harness the power of people, families, health care professionals and researchers collaborating to improve specific areas of care. This year will also see the completion of final rounds of our older programmes (some of which were delayed by COVID-19). This includes Continuity of Care, Innovating for Improvement, Scaling Up, our Improvement Science Fellowships and GenerationQ. 
  • Creating the infrastructure for improvement: In 2021 we will begin our new Adopting Innovation programme, funding four innovation hubs across the UK to support health care providers to become effective adopters of innovation. We'll also continue the Flow Coaching Academy, and our work with NHS Providers to encourage trusts to adopt quality improvement. This year will also see the completion of our Social Franchising programme. And finally, we also plan to establish and run a national network, in partnership with NHS England and Improvement, to support the NHS to develop its role as an anchor institution. 
  • THIS Institute: THIS Institute aims to create an evidence base that supports replicable and scalable improvements to health care delivery. In 2021, THIS will deliver findings from a range of rapid research projects in response to COVID-19, including work on access to mental health services good practice in remote care in COPD, heart failure, and antenatal services. THIS will also publish the first part of its guide to the evidence on improving quality and safety in health care. The Institute’s third and final competition for postdoctoral fellowships will open in March. 
  • Q Community: We will further develop the Q initiative during 2021, bringing people with improvement expertise together across the UK and Ireland to share insights, enhance skills and collaborate. We continue to grow the now 4,000 strong membership, with offers that support learning and change at a service, local and national-level. We will develop our approach to facilitating learning among national and regional leaders and expand our Q Labs offering in Wales.

4. Health and care sustainability 

In 2020 we launched the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre (research and economic analysis for the long term), marking a major progression of our analysis and research on sustainability. This new centre will aim to ensure that decisions about the funding, design and delivery of the health and social care system are informed by the best available analysis and evidence, and that debate about the future of the health and social care system is grounded in facts and evidence. 

  • Establishing two REAL Centre research units: This year will see us run the competitive process to select two REAL Centre research units. We have £14m of funding for 2022–2028 to establish these units, helping to further the work of the REAL Centre. The units will develop broad, potentially multi-disciplinary, research programmes across the areas of demand for and supply of health and social care and support the design and delivery of a fellowship programme. We will be inviting applications early in in 2021.
  • Analysis and debate about the options for social care reform: A key priority for the REAL Centre in 2021 will be to further develop our analysis of the options for reforming social care and to influence debate about funding reform. This includes the economic case for a cap on care costs, a reform package to support sector sustainability, better terms and conditions for the workforce, and access to care based on better understanding of demand. Social care will also be the focus of the next REAL Centre annual report and lecture, which will take place in the autumn. 
  • Comprehensive modelling of future workforce needs in health and care: At the end of 2020, the REAL Centre published research and modelling on the nursing workforce in the UK, showing that the current shortfall of nurses represents a major long-term and growing problem for the NHS. In 2021 we will follow this by publishing long-term projections of the trends in nursing using a new model we have developed over the last 18 months. We will also commission a model of the social care workforce, the next step in our planned suite of workforce models.
  • Research on demand for health and social care: Following on from our analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 using primary care data, we will be highlighting inequalities in health based on local area socioeconomic scores and patient ethnicity. A series of outputs will shed light on the drivers of underlying vulnerability to COVID-19, how the second wave of the pandemic has affected care for non-COVID patients, and potentially an analysis of ‘long-COVID’.  
  • Helping health and social care recover from COVID-19: During 2021 we will develop a programme of work looking at capacity and resilience in health and social care, which will report in 2022. We will also scope ‘the economics of resilience’ as the theme of the first REAL Centre challenge fund, which will also launch in 2022.  To inform a likely government spending review we will publish new funding projections for the NHS and social care over the long-term and the impact different levels of funding will have on patients and service users.  

5. Improving national health and care policy 

The Health Foundation works to support more evidence-informed policy on health and social care in the UK, contributing to better population health. We do this by analysing, understanding, and informing national policies on health and care, with a particular focus on the overall direction of the health system in England and how it is performing.   

  • A long-term look at reform of health and social care: In 2021 we’ll be focusing on understanding and informing the overall direction of health and social care reform in England, and the policy approaches used to try to improve the way the health system works. We’ll be analysing NHS England’s new legislation proposals, including how the changes impact on primary care networks. We will also be focusing on the approaches and mechanisms needed to support long-term policy decisions on health and care.  
  • Analysing and informing policies and approaches to reducing health inequalities: We’ll be exploring policies and approaches that can be used by government and the health and care system to prevent disease and tackle health inequalities. COVID-19 has exacerbated wide and unjust health inequalities in England, and policymakers have committed to ‘levelling up’ the country after the pandemic. Look out for our research on addressing the inverse care law in general practice, population-level primary prevention policies, and on health system (STP/ICS) approaches to addressing health inequalities.  
  • Ongoing analysis of the national COVID-19 policy response and recovery: We will continue our work analysing the national policy response to COVID-19, drawing out key lessons from the pandemic for future health and care policy. This will involve a mix of tracking, original analyses, and polling related to the overall policy response, as well as more specific analyses on policies related to adult social care and the test and trace system.
  • Analysis of health system performance – including international comparisons: Our work will continue to analyse the overall performance of the health system in England and how it changes over time. This includes analysis of data on how the NHS is performing – for example, on NHS waiting times. We will also be funding an international survey of health care systems, collaborating with the WHO EU Observatory, and building more extensive international comparisons into our work. We’ll also be supporting the Sciana and Harkness fellowship programmes, further developing important international policy networks. 

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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