COVID-19 has produced challenges and placed a spotlight on healthcare systems to a scale that we have not seen before. Consider the following five ways that COVID-19 has affected the healthcare sector:

1. Impact on care delivery

The pandemic has served as a catalyst for significant and rapid changes in how healthcare services are delivered. We have witnessed many necessary service changes for adapting to life during a pandemic, including shifts toward (a) delivering care out of hospitals and into communities, and (b) digital, remote care (telemedicine)

The benefits of the move toward community-based and digitalised care have been realised during the pandemic. Furthermore, the infrastructure to support these service shifts is now better implemented than prior to the pandemic. [1]

The need to adapt to new ways of delivering care has highlighted not only how beneficial community and telehealth can be for delivering quality care whilst alleviating pressures from primary care settings.

2. Impact on the healthcare workforce

Staff exposure, illness, mental health struggles, and burnout have created more pressure on already stretched and understaffed workforces throughout the pandemic. Most health systems were vastly unprepared for the staffing needs that arose throughout these events.

For example, the NHS reported a shortage of 84,000 staff. [2] Hospitals in many US states including Florida and Oregon announced critical staff shortages during the pandemic. Crisis capacity strategies need to be employed in order to mitigate future staffing shortages during a crisis.

The pressures and stresses on health systems over the last year(s) have taken their toll on the wellbeing of staff. Following the pandemic, improved support programs for staff wellbeing should be implemented to not only improve staff retention and satisfaction but also support better patient care.

3. Financial impact

Beyond the immediate Covid-19 impact on healthcare, the pandemic has caused devastating damage to healthcare system and government finances. The pandemic has caused many financial challenges which can be broadly summarised as:

  • hospitalisation costs
  • cost of canceled and forgone services which impact hospital revenue
  • cost of PPE and of implementing infection control policies
  • cost of additional health care worker support

The negative impacts of these financial challenges are likely to persist over the coming years and have forced healthcare leaders into aggressively managing their budgets alongside their current payer service contract/relationships.

Service providers will have to continue to collaborate with healthcare systems and governments to ensure low-cost, high-quality care whilst navigating a new financial landscape.

4. Impact on the supply chain

The pandemic has caused major disruption and strain on worldwide healthcare supply chains. Many items, including personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, sanitising supplies, testing kits, and other hospital equipment, were in short supply.

A flow diagram depicting Covid-19's impact on healthcare supply chains.

(Figure 1. The impact of Covid-19 on healthcare supply chains [3])

Research has shown that traditional supply chain lines were heavily impacted by Covid in the following ways:

  • Factory closures/production stoppages
  • Transportation disruption
  • Workforce limitations/staffing shortages

The pandemic has highlighted how current supply chains are insufficiently prepared for times of crisis. However, manufacturers, governments, and healthcare systems can learn valuable lessons from the pandemic.

Investment into enhancing current supply chain models is key to ensuring healthcare systems are better prepared in the future. [4]

5. Healthcare inequalities

At a global and regional level, certain groups have experienced disproportionate levels of exposure and death due to the virus. These groups include ethnic minorities, those with low incomes, disabled people, care home residents, and those in key worker roles. [5]

In order to support sustainable global recovery, there needs to be commitment and clear action to reduce the inequalities that exposed by the pandemic.

This effort should be a central focus for healthcare institutes and governments, and should be reflected in how such agencies are constituted, measured, and held to account.

Vaccine inequality is a prime example of this. The global imbalance of the vaccine supply is staggering. Unsurprisingly, the world’s richest countries have had much greater access to vaccinations. For example, the US ordered 1.2 billion vaccine doses for a population of 360 million. [6]

The US has pledged 580 million vaccines and delivered 140 million. The UK pledged 100 million and yet has only delivered nine million. Why then have so few vaccines been delivered to those in need? It cannot be attributed to a lack of vaccine supply – manufacturers are currently producing 1.5 billion vaccine doses per month. [6]

The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access institute (COVAX) is currently solely relying on donations from wealthy countries. Covid has highlighted the need to initiate better frameworks to support fairer vaccine distribution in the event of future pandemics. Governments and manufacturers alike must work together to prioritise equal vaccine delivery to areas in need.

References and image credits

  1. Lewis, R., Pereira, P. and Thorlby, R., 2020. Understanding and sustaining the health care service shifts accelerated by COVID-19 | The Health Foundation. The Health Foundation. Online.
  2. NHS, 2020. NHS Workforce Statistics – June 2020 – NHS Digital. Online.
  3. Vaish, K., 2020. Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the supply chain in healthcare | British Journal of Healthcare Management. British Journal of Healthcare Management. Online.
  4. Mahmoodi, F. and Blutinger, E., 2021. COVID-19 and the health care supply chain: impacts and lessons learned. Online.
  5. Suleman, M., Sonthalia, S., Webb, C. and Tinson, A., 2021. Unequal pandemic, fairer recovery: The COVID-19 impact inquiry report. The Health Foundation. Online.
  6. BBC News. 2021. “Covid vaccine stockpiles: Could 241m doses go to waste?” Online.

Header Image: Marcelo Leal, Unsplash

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