Bearing the brunt of a global pandemic comes with once-in-a-lifetime challenges. Seeing the health and social care sector rise to them with aplomb has been nothing short of incredible. And despite the challenges of COVID-19, our Corporate Finance team has continued to progress and complete deals in the sector.
Each year we bring together leaders from health and social care businesses to discuss the hottest topics in the sector and it will come as no surprise that this year’s conversation felt very different to 2019.
The deep insights and discussion were still there though. And what a time to have them.
We’ve covered some of the key themes and highlights below.
WHAT LESSONS SHOULD WE LEARN FROM LOCKDOWN?
Many of our guests came from businesses providing social care and the stark contrast between how the government treated their sector and the NHS was a constant theme.
The decision to discharge 25,000 hospital patients to care homes before the introduction of routine coronavirus testing wasn’t just a poor one, it was a dangerous one too. We knew elderly people were especially at risk and with the close proximity of people in care home environments, without the preparation to segregate, it only takes one case for the virus to spread rapidly.
More complications arose for our guests who were working across multiple local authorities. They spoke about a lack of clear guidance from any commissioning bodies, with each local authority singing off a different hymn sheet.
They were left to develop their own plans and put their own measures in place to assess people safely before the transition process. Often, when they were asked to take people in, they didn’t know where they were coming from, what the conditions were, or what tests had been performed on them.
One CEO described it as “chaotic”, and added, “we were just led to believe we had to save the NHS, which I think we did. But at what cost? We’ll find out.”
Figures suggest UK care homes have seen around 30,000 excess deaths during the coronavirus outbreak compared to the same time last year.
HOW IMPORTANT HAS TECHNOLOGY BEEN?
While health and social care is, of course, physical by nature, lockdown accelerated digital plans in many of our guests’ businesses.
Another CEO spoke of their transition away from paper to automated planning documentation, a digital platform that shows what’s going on across the business from any handheld device, using Zoom to maintain contact and do day service provisions and refresher training delivered through virtual classrooms.
The importance of keeping in touch with staff digitally and making them feel supported and safe to go to work each day was echoed by many and we heard about digital wellbeing packages put together by a business specialising in children’s care.
We were also joined by a HR Director from a care company who said, in terms of training and L&D, that lockdown had actually helped their efforts. That’s because although they had a big influx of new people into the business, who all needed inductions, by using technology they had more engagement as people didn’t need to travel and there was a cost saving for the business, too.
With nine in ten GP appointments now conducted virtually and the increase in residents keeping in touch with friends and family by virtual channels, care providers need to ensure that they have the technology to support this trend, which is likely to continue.
On another webinar earlier in the week, one of our guests heard about a business partnership around healthcare monitoring in homes, using sophisticated AI to measure things like blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.
“The GP community’s response has been mixed,” he told us, “there are doctors and nurses, half of them would probably turn their noses up and say what are you doing taking blood pressure? But the other half are receptive, and I think it’s got to go that way. If people living in their homes do those basic checks, blood pressure, temperature and so on, if it stops hospital admissions, it’s got to go that way.”
SO, IS THE FUTURE OF CARE DIGITAL?
Well, no. Not quite. Because as one business owner reminded us, in the world of social care, social isolation is a huge issue and an even bigger issue with family and neighbours not visiting anymore because of fear.
COVID has taken us right back to the basics of human need. We all need physical touch. We all need that face-to-face contact. That’s especially true when it comes to old, vulnerable, isolated people. And technology can’t replace that.
WHAT WILL THE SECTOR LOOK LIKE IN FIVE YEARS?
A few of our guests backed up what we’ve been seeing in the M&A market. PE has been looking at the sector and realising how resilient, well-managed and self-reliant it’s been. Right now, combined with the lessons that the health and social care sector has learnt recently, it appears to be a great space to be in and that should lead to better, stronger businesses going forward.
One of our guests raised the topical point about whether we need to have an insurance scheme in place, because poor health is indiscriminatory and the cost of living in care is around £50-70,000 a year.
They also mentioned the extra five million people over the age of 65 we’ll have in the next 15 years, saying, “we’re not building enough care home spaces for that. The hospitals won’t cater for it. There’s got to be insurance backed funding for the care of older people because there’s going to be millions more of them around.”
The issue of funding was raised, too, and our guests voiced concerns around the huge disparity between the £150bn spent a year on the NHS and the spend on social care. Because if that gap isn’t closed, we’ll be left with a lot of sick people, either at home without adequate care, or admitted to hospitals that are struggling to find beds.
THAT’S A WRAP
Fantastic insights from fantastic businesses. Where will the healthcare sector be this time next year? We’ll be using all our contacts and experience to deliver commentary that answers just that, and of course, we’ll be bringing together more healthcare leaders again to discuss one of the most exciting, active industries out there.
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