Looking back at lockdown

David Hare, CEO, Independent Healthcare Providers Network
A new report published by IHPN examines how the sector has responded to the needs of the NHS during the first three months of the pandemic

It’s difficult to talk about the coronavirus pandemic without resorting to clichés but the impact of Covid-19 on the health service, and particularly on independent healthcare providers, has simply been unprecedented.

While the NHS and independent providers have always worked closely together throughout the health service’s 72-year history, in just a matter of days the relationship transformed overnight with virtually the entire independent hospital sector voluntarily agreeing to make available its fleet of staff, beds and equipment to the NHS to be used as it sees fit. Such a decisive action was taken to ensure that urgent NHS treatment could continue during the pandemic, with enough ‘buffer capacity’ to deal with any additional surges in the virus and
ensure the health service would not be overwhelmed as was the case in many European countries.

And as we look back at the last three and a half months of the deal, where over 8,000 beds, 1,200 ventilators and 10,000 nurses from the independent sector were placed at the disposal of the NHS, it is clear that some truly inspiring partnerships have taken place to ensure patient care can continue in the most trying of times.

Indeed, in just a few short months hundreds of thousands of NHS patients up and down the country have benefitted from this public/private collaboration, which enabled them to receive urgent treatment they would not have otherwise been able to access. This is particularly the case with cancer care, where, as stated by NHS England/Improvement’s chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard in parliament, the sector’s beds have been ‘critical’ in ensuring treatment can continue with over half of the sector’s capacity being used for cancer treatment.

IHPN’s recent Working together…during Covid-19 report shines a light on these partnerships, with examples of independent providers repurposing their facilities, welcoming whole NHS teams into their facilities and undertaking new training and implementing new processes all within a matter of days to ensure that patient care could continue during this time.


And it isn’t just independent hospitals that have stepped up during Covid-19. Independent primary and community healthcare providers have quickly adapted during this time to ensure patients can continue to receive treatment in a safe and timely way during lockdown. This includes switching from face-to-face to virtual consultations, to repurposing their services to ensure vital NHS care which ordinarily would take place in hospitals can be carried out in the community, or providing ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ Covid-19 sites as needed by the NHS.

Equally, independent diagnostics providers, which have for many years partnered with the NHS to deliver high tech and efficient testing services such as MRI and CT scans, entered into a new partnership with the NHS to help increase the supply of state-of-the art scanners and expert radiographers to support the accurate diagnosis of people with suspected Covid-19 infection. As a result many thousands of patients have been scanned during this time and with NHS England making clear the need to ‘significantly expand its diagnostic capacity’ to deal with the backlog of cancelled and delayed tests, this deal will likely continue with the intention to build more ‘Nightingale’ style diagnostics centres to improve patient access to testing.

Of course, as we move beyond the peak of the pandemic, in many ways the challenges of operating in a Covid-19 world – the need for a relentless focus on infection prevention and control, the need to ensure social distancing while running efficient patient services – have
only just begun. IHPN will of course be here to support independent healthcare providers through this journey to ensure that patients can get the best possible care going forward. This includes re-establishing full capacity back for private activity, with Healthcode’s most
recent data giving ‘grounds for cautious optimism that private healthcare provision is starting to pick up and shows the resilience of the sector’, and IHPN will be working with all providers in the sector, as well as insurers, to ensure this happens.

But in the meantime, it’s important to take time and reflect on the truly inspiring work that has taken place in these last few months and ensure the contribution the sector has made, and its ability to seamlessly work hand in hand with the NHS, is not forgotten and can be the model for getting the health service back on its feet.