Response to recovery: Managing long-term impacts of COVID-19 in the UK public sector

As we welcome the new year whilst managing the Omicron strain, it’s clear the public sector is now moving from a state of COVID-19 response to recovery. However, local government, housing, policing, education, healthcare, and NHS organisations still face unique challenges posed by long-term effects of the pandemic throughout this transition.

In-line with impacts outlined by “A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19” published by the Authority of the House of Lords - and findings discovered throughout our 40 years’ experience supporting the public sector - we explore five important elements of navigating the shift into COVID-19 management below.

Prioritising digitisation

Throughout every stage of the pandemic, the public sector had to introduce and implement digitisation across the breadth of its services. From virtual GP appointments to online COVID-19 test booking forms, challenges posed by social distancing restrictions and heightened demand forced widescale change within local councils, NHS Trusts, housing associations, police departments, university faculties and beyond.

Though many of these frontline digitisation projects were initially launched in response to the pandemic, continued innovation will play a significant role in management and recovery too. As seen in many other industries, the public sector has observed a range of benefits to employing a digital-first approach, such as:

  • Improved resident and patient experience
  • Enhanced data quality for accurate reporting
  • Faster and more efficient services
  • Reductions in data loss and GDPR risks
  • Improved appointment attendance, by both professional parties and citizens
  • Increased engagement internally and externally
  • Financial, resource and time savings
  • Greener operations and environmental benefits

Prioritising digitisation at this stage ensures these benefits continue to deliver, allowing the appointment of more resources dedicated to COVID-19 recovery efforts. And, with many COVID-19 response projects being replicable in nature, many digital solutions can be applied across multiple processes with minimal adjustments for faster deployment and increased ROI. From automated processes to mobile apps and eForms, frontline digitisation projects can often be reapplied for a range of purposes across a multitude of departments.

Facilitating data sharing

Particularly between national and local services, organisations across the public sector have suffered the impacts of poor data sharing throughout the pandemic. From the reporting of infection statistics, to the introduction of new restrictions, many public sector organisations reported difficulties in both capturing and receiving crucial information.

For these reasons, data sharing will remain a firm priority in COVID-19 recovery throughout the public sector. With organisations in the NDL Community already implementing data sharing projects - such as the automatic upload of vaccination data into the National Immunisation and Vaccination System (NIVS) with robotic process automation (RPA), or the collection of employee lateral flow test results via eForms – we expect to see plenty more data sharing innovation in 2022.

Pursuing integration

Along with challenges in data sharing, many organisations struggled with integration issues throughout the UK public sector during the pandemic. This prevented not only the communication and unification of information, but the smooth delivery of services for patients and citizens requiring support across organisations.

Issues were observed in the integration of services, processes, and digital infrastructure as the need to work together during crisis periods highlighted a disconnect between siloed departments and information.  Categorically, digitisation provides integration in all of these areas. Depending on the application, RPA and front-end interfaces can integrate systems, datasets and working teams – from automated back-office data rekeying processes, to mobile application dashboards for use between internal and external departments.

Ensuring accessibility

Another impact reported to affect the wider sector throughout the pandemic was the inequality of access to, and a lack of user voice regarding public services. As we continue to digitise processes and gain more engagement, it’s imperative to ensure these solutions don’t prevent patients or residents from reaching desired outcomes and required support.

When delivering internal and public facing digital transformation projects, it’s important to consider any barriers that may be created through the implementation of your proposed solution, and implement measures to provide inclusive provisions – such as:

  • Compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  • Accessibility features, such as text to speech and extended zoom level
  • Alternate points of contact, such as contact numbers and email addresses
  • “Help” features and easy read manuals

Collaborating & co-production

Just as COVID-19 forced public sector organisations to work together in the delivery of services, it also facilitated collaboration in an internal working capacity too. With many councils and NHS Trust sharing digital solutions to aid in pandemic response, it’s expected that partnerships will continue to strengthen the country’s management and recovery from the coronavirus outbreak as well.

However, this prioritisation of collaborative working hasn’t been exclusive to organisations working within the public sector. Co-production – the joint delivery of projects and services between public sector and third-party organisations – has been a crucial factor in ensuring patient and resident services have been efficient, effective, and accessible throughout this period. In addition, many public sector organisations have leaned on third parties and vendors for knowledge, skill sharing and learning too – developing the specialist skills required to tackle more complex projects for even larger ROI and self-sufficiency.

Allowing public sector organisations with varying in-house skillsets to broaden possibilities with the support of industry specialists has been key in achieving particularly digital progression rapidly – facilitating the improvement of COVID and non-COVID related services for the general population. To learn how we can support your public sector organisation with both digital transformation and project delivery, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of the team.

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