The photo. The healthcare worker wears personal protective equipment (PPE). Credit: WHO/Egor Dubrovsky
A new policy brief draws management lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
Engaging the private sector in health and product delivery requires a good understanding of how to align resources with the strategic priorities of the health system. The WHO Regional Office for Europe and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policy have released a new report for policymakers analyzing the evidence for managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The question is not whether we should do it, but what we can do to do it well,” explained Dimitra Panteli, the observatory’s project manager, who presented the policy brief at the European Public Health Organization’s launch event organized by the WHO. during the session. EPH) Conference in Dublin.
Having played a key role in the COVID-19 pandemic, the private sector has demonstrated that it has the resources and expertise to improve the delivery of health goods and services and help achieve Universal Health Coverage. It also has a wider role in maintaining essential health services and ensuring the resilience of the health system.
“We can’t be under the illusion that we don’t have to work with the private sector, especially when health services are struggling to cope with the backlog caused by the pandemic,” said Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Director of Health Policy and Systems at WHO/Europe.
Taking control lens
However, this collaboration can present challenges, for example around management practices. Policy successes and failures during the pandemic provide lessons for countries on how to effectively engage the private sector in their health systems.
Focusing on governance in this exercise helps protect publicly funded health systems from potential abuse and achieve three important goals: success in providing services; and ensuring value for money when distributing funds.
The importance of transparency and accountability
Transparency and accountability are critical to ensuring the effective management of private sector contracts. The authors emphasize that transparent information is closely related to public trust and is necessary to protect the integrity of governments that provide large amounts of public funds.
Governments should also follow clear processes when considering potential private sector partners and justifying contract award choices. This is especially important in the field of public procurement. “Where public funding is used to contract the private sector, we must ensure that there is transparency, honesty and the absence of corruption,” Dr Muscat stressed.
Equitable risk sharing is also important for accountability and protection, and should be explicitly addressed in private sector engagements. Covering health, financial and supply risks makes contractual agreements much more efficient.
Experts have called for emergency procurement guidelines for “crisis contracting” to protect countries in future health emergencies. These may include pre-screening potential suppliers using robust selection criteria, and making all calls for tenders and contract awards publicly available so that they can be scrutinized transparently.
Photo: Florian Tillet, Naomi Nathan, Gabriele Pastorino and Dimitra Pantelli (Observatory and WHO/Europe teams)
In Dublin, November 2023, at the launch of the policy brief
Potential for successful private sector engagement
Learning from the experience of private sector engagement during the pandemic can help countries avoid pitfalls and achieve health system goals.
Italy’s strong tradition of working with the private sector, especially in the Lombardy region, shows the importance of having clear and coherent goals, explains Professor Carlo Signorelli of Italy’s Vita-Salute San Raffaele University.
Lithuania and Estonia provide examples of actions to ensure transparency and accountability in procurement practices. Other case studies from Germany and the United Kingdom highlight the significant governance challenges that can arise in preventing the risk of corruption or mismanagement of resources.
Speaking at the EPH conference, Associate Professor Sarah Burke of Trinity College Dublin said the COVID emergency in Ireland had shown that public-private partnerships could be established in record time; “The government acted quickly and negotiated over days and weeks. contract with private hospitals”.
However, because Ireland did not have the same surge in COVID-19 patients as other countries, the private sector was frustrated that their hospitals were not being used for such cases, even if it was a positive public health outcome.
According to Dr Burke, the latest research also shows that the Irish state had a very poor understanding of how the private sector works. For example, “failed to understand that medical advisers work independently of the system”. This underscored the vital need to develop the capacity of public institutions to engage the private sector.
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Image Source : eurohealthobservatory.who.int