Published: March 17, 2021
What business challenges and opportunities will the healthcare sector face in 2021?
Paul Kelly, Relationship Manager, Unity Trust Bank
We are all only too aware of the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on our hospitals, and the enormous toll it has had on the incredible individuals who work within the NHS. But like every industry, the implications of the pandemic have spread across the entire healthcare sector, from care homes to domiciliary care, community pharmacists, dentists and GPs.
With the beacon of light that the vaccination programme holds, what will the future look like for the healthcare sector, and what will the funding requirements be for businesses navigating a post Covid-19 era?
In the social care sector, particularly within elderly and nursing care, the impact of the pandemic has arguably been the most acute. Care home operators have continued to focus on protecting vulnerable residents, but disruption to the sector has resulted in restricted access to capital. Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing an increasing number of new entrants in health and social care, often with a greater focus on business management, data and insight, and the opportunities technology offered for improving the provision of care. As activity normalises post-pandemic, we expect to see a return to this pattern of acquisition and investment, as some providers seek to exit the market and create space for new operators.
Covid-19 has also highlighted the increasing requirement for specialist care provision, in particular domiciliary care and support for those living with complex needs. Local authorities have been overwhelmed with the level of people requiring support, particularly during such a sustained period of pressure on NHS and community services. With society’s increasing awareness of the pandemic’s impact on mental health, the requirement for specialist care provision will only continue to grow.
In the primary care market, we have seen a resurgence in the role of local pharmacies, which have truly emerged as vital community assets over the past 12 months. Against a challenging backdrop for the local high street, pharmacies have pivoted and expanded their amenities with the introduction of key services, including vaccination programmes. With this renewed focus on community pharmacy, and increased goodwill amongst their local customer base, pharmacies have a strong opportunity for growth and expansion.
Having been forced to stop routine treatment between March and June last year, many dentists faced significant challenges and financial uncertainty connected to their NHS contract fulfilment and patient plans. Like other healthcare providers, dental surgeries needed to be reconfigured, to ensure they were Covid-secure. This meant the number of patients who could be seen was significantly reduced, allowing for the required ‘fallow time’ or cleaning to take place between each appointment. Some have utilised government schemes and invested in equipment to speed up this process, but this has taken a toll on finances. Despite these challenges, we have seen increased diversification and innovation within the sector, and have supported practices to access funding by delivering additional income streams, such as phantom labs where trainees can practice and the provision of specialist dental services.
Altogether, despite the enormous challenges faced, the healthcare sector has remained resilient. Combined with the innovation and forward-thinking approach of operators and business owners, the market is primed for growth as it continues to support the health and wellbeing of local communities in the months and years ahead.