If ever there was a year to invest in healthcare, it is going to be 2021. After the year we’ve just had, focussing on our health and well-being is going to be key. Obviously, the biggest cause of this is the coronavirus but the effects of the pandemic have spread much wider than just dealing with the virus itself. How we access care, our mental health, the way employers look after their employees and the giant leaps that pharmaceutical companies have made, have radically changed our outlook, and investment, in health. These changes are set to continue into 2021. And unlike many other years where health trends were all about what we can do for ourselves, 2021 is looking far more balanced, between what we can do for ourselves and what we can expect other parties to do for us.
No great surprise that one of the big stories of 2021 will be vaccines. The extraordinary work done by pharmaceutical companies and research universities around the world means that vaccines are now ready to be rolled out. But who should get them first? How much will they cost? And who will pay? These questions have yet to be definitely answered on a global basis. But we will get there. The big question that remains unanswered is how many people will be prepared to take the vaccines? This last question really shouldn’t be one that needs to be answered. Vaccines have a tremendous record of improving public health, and right now look like the only way out of the pandemic. Yet still conspiracy theories about the medicines abound. If enough people refuse to take the vaccine it simply won’t be effective. Estimates vary but plenty of experts suggest we may need as many as 80% - 90% of the population to be vaccinated, or immune, to really feel the pandemic is under control. A serious educational push maybe required before we get to this level.
The freewheeling success of Peleton and other interactive home exercise systems will only grow in 2021. The lockdown has stretched the imagination of the service providers and the consumer. People are now more open minded about doing yoga in their bedroom connected through their laptop to 18 other likeminded people in lycra. Running, cycling and rowing machines will all become more and more connected, allowing their users to compete against each other, as well as the clock, while their vital signs are monitored by computers, and who knows, maybe their doctors or coaches. Sheds, cellars, attics will continue to be converted into gyms.
It seems the issue of mental health has been moving up the agenda for years. However, it also seems that the gap between spending on mental health and physical health is as wide as it has ever been. One area that was growing rapidly before the pandemic struck, and which should rebound strongly once the vaccines take hold, is social prescribing. Once our freedoms to move and meet are restored expect to see and hear a lot about doctors prescribing social remedies for mental, even physical, health problems. Therapies include things such as exercising, gardening clubs, volunteering and arts classes.
We are used to traffic lights on our food telling us about the benefits, or damage, our food might be doing. In 2021, expect to hear more and more calls for similar labelling to be applied to the damage our food might be doing to the planet. Sweden has already introduced carbon labelling on food packaging. Environment scientists are also calling for the wider environmental impact of our food, think deforestation or desertification, to be reflected in some form of labelling. New superfoods will emerge in 2021 too - look out for duckweed and a resurgence of 'ancient grains' such as amaranth, farro and freekeh.
The responsibility on employers to step up and help support their employees’ health is now unequivocal. Whether it is offering mental health support for employees isolated at home, providing regular coronavirus testing in the office or putting in place alternative working arrangements for employees having to self-isolate or care for family members, employers are having to take their responsibilities towards more employees far more seriously. As ever, some will break new ground, others will lag behind, but the best practices will start to embed themselves in 2021 and get rolled out across different workplaces.