Building healthcare resilience for better, more equitable health  

May 2023

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The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of investing in healthcare resilience and shone a spotlight on how major health events exacerbate existing inequalities, disrupt essential services, and create new barriers to accessing healthcare.  

Given the immediate challenges faced by health and care systems, notably the major workforce challenges and clearing the elective care backlog, we are naturally focused on finding solutions to immediate problems. However, is imperative that resources dedicated to long-term challenges are protected and that we invest in a sustainable and agile healthcare system that can meet the complex and changing needs of an ageing society.  

Indeed, the recently published Hewitt Review of integrated care systems highlights the need to invest in prevention, population health management, and tackling health inequalities to promote health and reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy. The problem is well observed, but meaningful and sustained solutions driven by Integrated Care Systems have the power to make real change. 

That said, no one organisation or institution has the knowledge or resources to resolve health challenges alone. Collaboration between the NHS, third sector, academia, government bodies, and industry will be essential to driving progress to improve healthcare resilience. So, in March, MSD sponsored a roundtable at the Nuffield Trust Summit that brought together health and care leaders to explore how, at a time of constrained public expenditure and health backlogs, health systems are working together to build healthcare resilience and prepare for future health challenges. 

The discussion covered a diverse range of examples and recommendations, from placing inclusion at the heart of prevention approaches to empowering the healthcare workforce to make decisions at a local level with support from the centre where needed, to ensuring psychological safety in the health and care workforce – required to underpin progress. 

At MSD, we recognise that we have an important role to play to support the healthcare resilience agenda: 

We are investing in public health

Vaccines are one of the greatest public health success stories in history. MSD is the largest supplier of vaccines to the UK national immunisation programmes, helping to protect the public from infancy to adulthood. Through a number of activities, we are committed to partnering with the local and national health system to strengthen the UK’s response across vaccine-preventable diseases, by reducing inequalities in access to immunisation systems. To support the UK’s HPV elimination effort, we have invested in the development of a digital mapping tool to compare rates of cervical cancer, vaccination coverage rates, screening uptake, and different population characteristics, e.g. deprivation levels and ethnicity, across England. Working with the agency and the platform that developed a similar tool to aid the NHS roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, our tool gives a granular insight into how close or far localities are from achieving the critical pre-requisites for the elimination of cervical cancer, whilst also uncovering the extent of variation across the country. 

We are focusing on future health challenges

As a founding industry member, MSD is supporting Our Future Health, the UK’s largest-ever health research programme, which aims to transform the detection, prevention, and treatment of a wide range of diseases. Our Future Health aims to recruit five million adult volunteers, from all backgrounds, to participate in the research programme. By joining the voluntary research programme, people will be able to contribute to the most comprehensive picture of health ever captured in the UK.  

We are targeting our actions for better, more equitable health

We work collaboratively with the NHS across the UK to improve cancer patients’ outcomes. Through numerous activities, we work together to improve patients and the public’s awareness of cancer signs and symptoms, to understand and improve cancer pathways, and to improve treatment uptake. Last year we produced a report working with the Less Survivable Cancer Taskforce titled ‘Levelling up: what does it mean for cancer in England?  on the disparity in outcomes for these cancers, particularly in lower socio-economic groups. This year we’re seeking to build on this work by developing a toolkit in collaboration with cancer alliances and charity partners to support alliances in the Core20plus5 ambitions to build on, and complement, the excellent materials already produced by NHS England. Additionally, the 2023 MSD Grants Programme is available for Patient Advocacy Groups and healthcare organisations looking to address health inequalities and support the elimination of public health threats in the HIV, cancer and vaccines therapy areas. This programme will provide funding for projects designed to inform and empower patients, address health inequalities, and deliver improvements in patient outcomes and experience in the UK. 

Strengthening healthcare resilience will require health and care leaders and policymakers to balance efficiency with long-term healthcare resilience, prioritise prevention and health equity, and learn from the successes and failures of the pandemic response to help inform approaches to future health challenges. At a time when political manifestos are being drawn up, we need to make sure there is a shared vision for delivering improved whole population health and health system resilience

GB-NON-07481 | Date of Preparation: May 2023