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Lessons for future pandemics

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the likelihood of future pandemics is alarmingly high. The consensus among medical experts appears to be that Covid 19 will settle down but remain a “seasonal nuisance”. There are lessons operators – and governments – must learn for future pandemics.

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One obvious lesson is that speed – and clarity – of reaction, when it comes to infection control and passing regulations, is crucial. The UK’s early response to Covid was branded the worst public health failure ever, according to a report by MPs.

At HBI 2021, Magnus Akerhielm, division manager at disability care specialist Nytida noted that, particularly in Sweden, it was very challenging to simply keep up with the level of regulatory changes and that (parent company) Ambea had an advantage over smaller operators, as its quality department could rapidly digest, list and transmit new regulatory guidance.

Orpea and Korian did well compared to their peers during the pandemic in part because they closed visitation and new entry rapidly, in some countries before governments had made it mandatory. Scale clearly brings its advantages, the large European nursing home groups could learn from their experience in Italy and close visitation long before local providers (and in some cases, governments) had realised the extent of the problem.

Of course, it is difficult for operators to act decisively particularly when the advice they are given and the rules they are to follow are based on flawed information. For example, in March 2020 the World Health Organisation were emphatic that Covid 19 was not airborne, announcing: “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne.” In April 2021 it quietly updated its website adding that Covid 19 spreads through droplets and aerosols.

What does this mean for future pandemic prevention? Well for one thing, it suggests that operators should perhaps not take the word of health authorities as gospel and should err on the side of caution if they can (and they can afford it) and go further with infection control than recommended.

And living with a pandemic – and the prospect of more – means those involved in testing have a new revenue stream, despite previous assumptions that this would not be the case. Even if Covid became a “seasonal nuisance” lab companies are still predicting volumes will be at 20-25% of peak going into next year, after which it may drop down to 10-15% (new strains allowing).

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to James Elliott or call 0207 183 3779.