The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to improve the underlying health of individuals, workplaces, and the entire health and social care system, as David Newell, Gemserv’s Director of Healthcare, explains.
One of the last remaining Covid restrictions in England – the legal requirement for people to isolate if they test positive for Covid – is being scrapped today (24th February 2022). Guidance will replace regulations, helping people navigate the risks of living with the virus.
The UK Government is following the lead of Scandinavian countries, which have removed all virus restrictions as of early February, declaring that the coronavirus is no longer a critical threat to society. Although the evidence behind the decision has been questioned by the British Medical Association (BMA), Downing Street confirmed that its decision is prompted by a recent fall in the rate of hospital admissions.
While some members of the public feel relieved that the pandemic is now “over”, there is still a large proportion of the population and many organisations that worry the cabinet’s decision has been driven by emotions, not data. This course of action could cause further tension among the public – and potentially further segmentation.
There will be a cautious group – perhaps over-cautious – made up of individuals at high-risk or their close contacts who will continue to follow the guidelines religiously. The rest of the population, who have already thrown away their masks, will continue to enjoy their newly regained freedoms.
What is the data telling us?
At Gemserv, throughout the pandemic, we have urged decisionmakers to stick to the science and let the relevant data inform us of the best next step. That mantra remains true now.
The development of the vaccines against the coronavirus marked the turning point in this pandemic. Vaccine uptake in the UK has been high, with 91.4% of Britons having had their first dose, with 85.1% having had a second jab, and 66.2% receiving a third or booster shot.
Current data shows both cases and deaths have fallen by 48% since January, with hospitalisation rates reduced by a whopping 31%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Fears of the omicron variant overwhelming the NHS appear to have receded.
From the data alone, the decision to remove restrictions seems sensible. Yet continuous stock-takes must be made, and individuals’ health must be considered.
Next steps – for individuals
This pandemic has really highlighted the importance of wider determinants of health and the need to look at health holistically through a sustainability lens. Underlying health conditions and comorbidities have been thrown into sharp focus.
How individuals’ bodies responded to the virus has been directly related to their overall health. We saw some people who had been double vaccinated and boosted still getting hospitalised, while some unvaccinated individuals could continue to walk around healthy and unaffected.
On an individual level, everyone should assess their own personal health and follow guidelines accordingly. We’ve all heard the messages again and again about eating more fruit and veg, taking more exercise, and moderating our alcohol intake – perhaps Covid will be the turning point when we start to act on our individual health.
Next steps – for workplaces
In the workplace, health and wellbeing must be prioritised. Employees must feel comfortable to stay at home if they are unwell with Covid – just as they should with any other condition.
The culture of “soldering on” needs to end. Knowingly spreading an infection around your workplace should no longer be acceptable.
Instead, choices and comfort zones should be encouraged and supported on an individual level. Having the right policies and procedures in place is essential, as is making sure that managers are trained to handle staff absence effectively.
Next steps – system level
The biggest catch is getting things right at a system level. Although the ultimate responsibility for health lies with the individual, it is the responsibility of governments and healthcare leaders to create an environment in which these “healthy” choices are made easier.
The pandemic has underlined the importance of wider determinants of health – the healthier the population, the better the resistance to disease. This means that leaders need to look at sustainability and view healthcare through a prevention lens, not a treatment lens.
Investments should be made to stop people getting ill in the first place, rather than treating them in an already overburdened health and social care system. Only a sustainable health and social care system can achieve that goal – one in which most of the work is done before the patient falls ill and, if they do get sick, they’re treated holistically, in a way that minimises further harm to the patient’s health, the environment, the economy, and the efficiency of the system.