Lord Wei is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He is a co-founder of Teach First, a social entrepreneur, and a former government adviser.
Enough is enough. We need to start planning not to go back to the pre-pandemic normal, but for a different world in which we seek to both maximise our freedoms, but where lockdowns can really become a thing of the past, or at least become very unlikely or unnecessary.
Why have we put ourselves in a situation in which our economy, education system and healthcare service shuts down the moment we are at risk of filling 30 thousand beds? Surely it would be better to move diagnosis and treatment of healthcare problems away from hospitals, so that we can get scanned and diagnosed from the relative safety or our houses, porches, or high streets, and indeed to have specialist centres for minor operations, leaving hospitals to be the places where only the most sophisticated and complex operations take place.
To get to this point will require rethinking our system, with perpetual trials offered to citizens to test the latest technology (and even some treatments) in the home or nearer to it, to more quickly identify what is wrong with patients (something which can take many half or all day trips to A&E currently or video or other calls or weeks waiting for GP appointments).
We also need incubators based in centres adjacent to hospitals similar to those in Israel where these technologies and systems are able to be rapidly prototyped, developed and tested, including those in hospitals themselves to help make pathways and operations faster, safer, and less costly to manage.
And finally we need to have a special embedded agile group of healthcare workers, a kind of Teach First force for the NHS front line if you like, whose job as trained medical care workers and nurses would be be to find novel, better ways of organising our health better, starting with supporting us all in more imaginative rather than coercive ways to eat, sleep, and exercise better, to manage our own health and lifestyle rather than outsourcing it to A&E, and to problem solve where bureaucracy or ignorance is getting in the way of good, responsive treatment.
With such a force we could also simulate daily or weekly the next pandemic, or drone attack, or climate disaster, and rehearse drilled solutions before they happen rather than belatedly and on the fly.
All of these measures would not just build longer-term resilience, but help cut down the huge waiting lists now and into the future, and save money at a time when we will need to manage our finances very carefully, as well as avoid future lockdowns due to the bottleneck of NHS and social care capacity.
To have three lockdowns is regrettable, but to go through three winters knowing we may have to shut the country to save the NHS is unacceptable. Despite the success of our vaccination programme we are not out of the woods yet. Thousands of viruses are out there waiting to leap into humans as we expand as a human race into territories historically only occupied by animals, whose diseases we haven’t adapted enough yet to be immune to.
There remain variants that could develop in the young unvaccinated and in less well vaccinated countries which can partially evade our current individual and herd immunity, both of which are not yet perfect. And then there are other asymmetric threats that could fill our hospitals as our climate changes and geopolitics continues to causes tensions.
It would be wise now to be prepared and get ahead of the curve rather than assuming this was just a one off, and just hoping for the best as we approach each new winter. Only this way can we preserve our freedoms while enabling our healthcare system to adapt and bounce back stronger.
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Author: Lord Wei
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