Back to school

16 September 2020 Caroline Clarke

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Caroline ClarkeI’m writing this at the start of September on the evening before my daughter goes back to school. She’s not had quite the extended break that some kids have had (as keyworkers, we were lucky enough to send her to a small version of school during lockdown). But she’s really looking forward to getting back to structure and seeing her friends.

Talking to other parents, many are still anxious about school restarting. We’ve seen this in the NHS too, with some patients not wanting to come into hospitals or GP surgeries. I’ve also watched the school take massive additional precautions, just as we’ve tried to in the hospitals and other care settings. 

And I’ve realised that, no matter how great the precaution, it’s going to take something else to allay anxieties. There’s huge variation in public confidence and, as we go into winter, it’s hard to know what else to do to shift things.

I do know that we will bust a gut to reduce waiting lists, that we will try to keep as many services open as possible in the event of a second Covid wave. And we will continue to learn lessons from the last six months so that we can make constant improvements.

But what else can we expect this term? Apart from the obvious winter planning and ensuring that we are in the best possible position to face another Covid wave, there are a few more things on the agenda for the finance community.

There’s this autumn’s comprehensive spending review, which should give the NHS a view on allocations for the next few years. There will be some big asks from the service around staffing and pay (the recently published NHS people plan is a bit silent on how we are going to pay for some of the commitments), capital to support infrastructure, and Covid recovery plans. And I hope it will be a chance to move from episodic funding to something more long term and stable.

We have a massive number of people waiting a long time across the NHS and getting back to some kind of equilibrium will not be easy or quick. NHS England and NHS improvement have issued their ‘phase 3 letter’. This is generating an industrial number of PowerPoint slides and templates and a lot of head scratching at system level about how we get the incentives right. Let’s hope we can keep things simple. Don’t over-complicate this year, and let’s plan for a better future.

The long awaited people plan, We are the NHS: people plan 2020/21 – action for us all, was quietly released in the summer. We should welcome the focus on staff wellbeing and inclusion. And as a profession we should be curious about the resource implications of some of the statements and should offer support and challenge.

Local partnerships are solidifying all over the country and technology is emerging as a key enabler. I talked about this in my last blog Going digital, staying human and I’d still encourage everyone to read the excellent report by Health Education England on what this will mean for the workforce of the future.

For those of you who managed to have a break, I hope you’ve come back rested and ready for whatever the world throws at us. And if you haven’t had a break, I hope you have one booked soon.

And I Iook forward to seeing lots of you virtually at the branch conferences.

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