The NHS Executive Strategy Summit, organised by Meet Health and Proud2bOps, will bring together Chief Operating Officers (COOs) from across the NHS to discuss and find solutions to urgent issues including winter pressures on the NHS and patient flow. 

In advance of the event on 7th November, Distilled Post spoke to Chinyama Okunuga, the COO of Whittington Health NHS Trust. The conversation covered the challenge of building resilience in winter, the shifting expectations and needs of patients post-pandemic, and the potential of technology to free up beds in hospitals.

Chin opened by expressing the need for collaboration across different systems and partners within the NHS in building resilience: “Only every so often we come together as a system”, she noted, despite the fact that patients are moving more frequently outside local authority boundaries. Whole-system conversations about primary care and the strain on the ambulance service are rarely had, and so it proves challenging to share resources for emergency care and strengthen community services. Chin noted that these obstacles are faced within an immensely tough financial climate: her Trust had just been told that they would receive no additional funding this winter, regardless of their need to open surge beds in hospitals to cope with increasing demand. 

The conversation then turned to how patient flow could be improved in the long term. Chin expressed that it was essential for patients to shift their expectations and “own their own health”, an attitude that had begun to exist before the pandemic, which then transformed “how people want to be cared for, and how quickly”. She described how patients were quick to use resources and services for very urgent emergency care, even when their needs might not necessitate such a decision. She added that the NHS should, in turn, take into account how much the demographics of service users have changed, citing the ageing population with increasingly complex needs, and the phenomenal increase in patients suffering from mental ill-health: “the next pandemic”, according to Chin, as services struggle to manage the acute mental health episodes occurring within the population. 

Chin elaborated on her assertion that whole-system thinking was essential to managing pressure on the NHS, explaining that the NHS must begin to take a holistic approach to patient care. “How do we look after the whole of the patient?” she asked. The active and real integration of health and social care would facilitate such a holistic approach, allow professionals to look after patients with multiple and long-term issues, and ensure the onward care of those leaving services. Understanding the whole picture, or the “patient’s pathway right up to outside a hospital”, is crucial, Chin stressed. 

The conversation concluded with Chin stressing the importance of an event like the NHS Executive Strategy Summit. Professionals can learn from each other, and see good practice at all levels of the NHS, guiding those who may be struggling. “The real value”, she noted, “is for the people who attend knowing that they’re not alone in what they’re going through”. 

The NESS, organised by Meethealth and Proud2bOps, is on the 7th November in London.