Like many organisations, the Health Foundation is rapidly assessing what it can best do to help in the response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The last week has been intense, discussing with our staff and other organisations what could and should be done, in the short, medium and longer term.

As we work out a meaningful response, clearly a strong impulse is to respond to immediate requests for support. I’m pleased to say that several of our clinical, public health and other specialist staff are now focusing full-time on front-line NHS care, or helping in NHS England, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care.

In the short term, the best possible intelligence on use of health care across the country, the pattern of demand for, and use of, care and the outcomes of care is going to be critical to help the health system manage the response to COVID-19. We are doing reconnaissance across our networks to identify the key questions for analysis. Our data analysts are joining forces with other analytical groups and leading data scientists to coordinate our support for national bodies. In this work we will also be scrutinising the essential care needed for people which is not COVID-related. 

Linked to this, the Foundation co-funds the WHO European Observatory on health systems, which will be collaborating with country partners to track and describe international responses to COVID-19. This is being done rapidly to enable fast sharing of information and contacts across the European region.

We also fund many programmes to help speed up innovation and needed change in the NHS. Will Warburton, our Director of Improvement, sets out in his blog in this newsletter how we are flexing certain funded programmes that may be particularly helpful in the coming weeks. For example, our learning on how to implement virtual consultations well, and how the Q community of nearly 4,000 is mobilising to share learning as the NHS and social care system respond to the current challenges. We are also thinking about how to support staff wellbeing, given the hugely stressful working environment for front-line staff in particular.

We are in discussions with other charitable funders, about the need to support voluntary sector organisations providing direct help to vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence and loneliness. I am pleased to say we will be making a donation of £250k to the Trussell Trust, to help address the severe food insecurity some people are facing. Also important are organisations providing palliative care in hospices and in the community. With the Association of Charitable Foundations we are looking at what we can collectively do here.

While the emergency is now, the implications for the medium to longer term are no less important to have in sight, particularly for organisations like us outside of the health and social care system. We will be looking at how the health system responded and identifying learning for the future. We’ll identify, with others, a longer list of research questions which we can work on and commission, coordinating with other funders. This won’t just concern health and social care but will also pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable groups. 

It was only at the end of February (it seems years ago) that the Health Foundation commissioned and published The Marmot Review 10 Years On, which showed growing inequalities in health across England, in part the consequence of reduced public spending on ‘social protection’ over the last decade. A week later Case and Deaton published Deaths of Despair – an analysis of widening disparities in health in the US. They argue that this is due to long-run structural changes in the economy (eg deindustrialisation) which, combined with lack of state protection, have crushed certain communities. How these groups fare in the COVID-19 emergency will be important to document in the UK, as well as internationally, and crucially what happens afterwards, given the likely economic impact of the pandemic. What the public mood will be after the pandemic to push for more support for these groups, and a wider role for public authorities in social protection, will be important to assess. We’ll be working on these questions with other funders.

This is all work very much in progress… all your ideas on the above on responding effectively to the COVID-19 challenge and beyond are important and welcome.

Contact us via email

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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