As we enter 2021, I have been thinking over the ups and downs of an extraordinary year passed.
Whilst we have seen a number of vaccines authorised for usage by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which has really demonstrated the value of science, the pandemic continues to have a profound impact on everyone in the UK.
We all had to learn to live through an ever-changing situation and I have particular sympathy for older people and those with long-term conditions, who have had to cope with indefinite uncertainty regarding their health. The latest figures on the number of people waiting over a year for hospital treatment in England make sobering reading, having reached their highest levels since 2008.1 Many people waiting for routine elective operations, like hip or knee replacements for example, will be living with severe pain and loss of mobility while they wait.2
While searching for any silver linings within such prolonged disruption, I do feel hopeful that our devoted and resourceful NHS professionals are working hard to retain the best of the beneficial changes and innovations they implemented under the challenging circumstances of repeated lockdowns. Examples of this include physiotherapy telehealth models3 and the digital solutions that could enable more efficient organisation of test results and medication details and improved access to information.4 Crucially, the virtual healthcare many of us have embraced through necessity could also offer opportunities for improved efficiency, convenience and outcomes.
Given the devastating impact of the pandemic,5 particularly among older people and those with underlying conditions,6 I’m increasingly convinced that we need to develop a new mindset regarding the future of health. Our population is ageing,7 so prioritising appropriate interventions and support for people now to age healthily and retain their independence could reduce demand for more expensive health or social care later on.
The NHS has set out to deliver better health for the whole population, improved quality care for all patients and financially sustainable services for the taxpayer.8 The opportunity presented by the creation of Integrated Care Systems is significant and will be critical for enabling more place-based care, focused on meeting the needs of local populations. The vision for integrated care could be truly transformational for older people and for people living with one or many long-term chronic conditions; by aligning systems around people means better access to simple, joined-up care and treatment when it's needed and access to preventative services and proactive support to keep well.
It’s certainly a timely aspiration as 2020 marked the start of the World Health Organization’s Decade of Healthy Ageing with a key priority of aligning health systems to the needs of older people.9 The accompanying global data portal will bring visibility to the health and well-being of older people and ultimately drive action for national policies and plans to support healthy ageing.10 At Pfizer, we see good health as fundamental to the social and economic potential of the UK, and I believe it’s time to value and invest in health as a ‘national asset’ rather than a cost to be borne.
In spite of the pandemic continuing to separate many of us from loved ones, and with much of our mental reserves of resilience depleted, I am drawing strength and inspiration from the determination and amazing ideas I hear every day from UK colleagues and collaborators. We are now striving to build back our systems and communities in a way that is stronger, smarter and more equitable after the pandemic. I also, of course, take heart in knowing that #ScienceWillWin as indicated by the many innovative partnerships across biopharma and academia that are advancing coronavirus vaccines and medicines. I can think of few things that make me more optimistic about what this year will bring.
- BBC News. Coronavirus: Year-long waits for hospital care in England worst since 2008 Nov 2020.
- The Telegraph. Covid's 'collateral damage': how delayed operations have created a health timebomb Oct 2020.
- Physiotherapy. “Physio Anywhere”: digitally-enhanced outpatient care as a legacy of coronavirus 2020 July 2020.
- Pfizer UK. ByYourSide app and website launched to help cancer patients in need June 2020.
- WHO. Impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods, their health and our food systems Oct 2020.
- Nature. The coronavirus is most deadly if you are older and male — new data reveal the risks Aug 2020.
- Office for National Statistics. Living longer: how our population is changing and why it matters Aug 2018.
- NHS. NHS Long Term Plan Jan 2019.
- WHO. Decade of Healthy Ageing Aug 2020.
- WHO. WHO launches portal for global data on the health and well-being of older people Oct 2020.
PP-PFE-GBR-4214 / November 2021