Trying to Predict the Unpredictable

It’s been near-impossible to escape news surrounding the pandemic that put the world on hold. Over 18 months in, Covid-19 still holds headlines, even as we near the end of a relatively ‘normal’ summer. As we enter the notorious winter season, another pandemic is rumbling away in the background. And it’s only getting louder. Are we prepared for the aftermath of Covid-19? 

A wake-up call  

In August, Nando’s made headlines for closing 50 restaurants thanks to disruptions in their supply chains that led to chicken shortages. A few days later, we learnt that 1,250 branches of McDonald’s were unable to offer milkshakes for reasons alike. In service, the NHS differs greatly from these restaurants. However, in terms of supply chains and logistics, they’re more closely aligned than you’d think. So, the question is begged: should our healthcare system expect similar disturbances? And if so, what do we need to do now to avoid the fates of our beloved restaurants?  

A complex network 

The complexities of transportation networks and operational arrangements within healthcare is colossal. From moving patients between sites for treatment, to urgently distributing medical materials, the implications of one wrong move – or no movement at all – are quite literally life-threatening.  

Looking back to Thursday evenings of March 2020, we were whooping and cheering through tears for our NHS and frontline workers. The health system had never seen more public, media, or political displays of support. For a moment, a turning point seemed on the horizon.  

Fast-forward to the present day, and the NHS is experiencing pressure like never before. A staggering quarter of NHS non-emergency patient transport services are cancelled each year, indicative of poor communication and integration between the system and transport providers. It’s not news that the system has battled lacks to funding and staffing for years, but it’s taken a pandemic to home in the realities of the issues. We need to fix this, fast. 

The true cost of strain 

When a health service is put under enormous strain, something’s going to give. Wave 1 saw the closure of operating theatres and outpatient clinics to make way for the influx of Covid-19 patients. Surgical and nursing staff were redeployed to Covid-19 wards; many medical professionals were unable to work due to illness or isolation when we really needed them. 

The backlog of care started as soon as the first non-Covid-19 service shut down. And from there, it snowballed. The British Medical Association estimates that between April 2020 and June 2021, elective procedures were down by 3.66 million, outpatient attendances by 28.35 million. Combine this with 6 million ‘missing patients’ (those that weren’t referred into consultant-led elective care in 2020 compared to 2019) and you begin to expose the scale of the problem. 

Vulnerabilities laid bare  

The cracks in the NHS’ ability to marry supply with demand aren’t new. What’s scary is the latter outweighs the former by a frightful degree. Take the cancellation of routine surgeries; it’s culminated to near-breaking point. This time a year ago, 140,000 patients in England had waited over a year for joint replacements. That’s 100 times the number in 2019.  

Surgical waits increase patient pain, limit mobility, and inflate risks of requiring more complicated surgeries. Not to mention the very real chance of reduced quality of life – odds are 50% greater of worse outcomes when surgery is delayed by more than 6 months. Elective surgeries may have now resumed, but hospitals aren’t anywhere near functioning at capacity.  

Time is of the essence 

To work our way through the backlog successfully, we need to work with absolute efficiency. It’s crucial that supply chains are robust to keep up with the constant and increasing demand for healthcare materials, devices, and medicines. We might have been annoyed about it, but there’ll be another chance for a bite of peri-peri chicken. The same can’t be said about life-saving surgery. 

In a battle against the clock, transportation services must operate with maximum efficiency, traceability, and visibility. Optimising routes and having access to real-time information on status and delays are imperative to keeping a service running at capacity. Especially a service in which demand already far outweighs supply.  

The continued vaccine rollout is triumphant and a brilliant example of the significance of meticulously planned logistical and transportation operations. If we managed to implement that during a pandemic, surely, we can do the same for the backlog crisis? Long-term costs to patients, the system, and society remain high in its presence. Streamlining logistical operations and transportation services is just the start, a beginning that TAAP is experienced in initiating. As we get out of one mess, let’s try and avoid another.  

If you work within the healthcare sector, get in touch with one of our solutions experts today to find out how we can help you to improve efficiencies at your organisation today.