COVID-19: looking ahead to winter 2021-22 and beyond

Our rapid review into ‘COVID-19: Preparing for the future’ identifies key challenges that are likely to put additional pressures on the health and social care system over the autumn and winter of 2021/22, and outlines a series of options to mitigate their impact.

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This project launched on 15 July 2021 - find out more and read the press release in our associated news article.


At the request of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, one year on from the publication of our report ‘Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21’, the Academy has published a rapid review into ‘COVID-19: Preparing for the future’. This review identifies key challenges that are likely to put additional pressures on the health and social care system over the autumn and winter, and outlines a series of options to mitigate their impact.

The report highlights that despite a highly successful vaccination campaign in the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We must sustain our efforts to limit the transmission and impacts of the virus. Over the next few months, the UK health and social care system is likely to face three key challenges, namely:

  • A resurgence of respiratory infectious diseases, including COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Pressures resulting from the wider health and wellbeing impacts of the pandemic, including long COVID and the impact of delayed care seeking.
  • Continued disruptions to health and social care delivery.

To mitigate the impact of these challenges and prepare for the winter period and beyond, our rapid review emphasises that the summer must be used to:

  • Maximise the speed and uptake of COVID-19 vaccination, and prepare for possible booster vaccines and vaccination against influenza later in the year. 
  • Increase the ability of people with COVID-19 to self-isolate through financial and other support. 
  • Boost capacity in the NHS to build resilience against future outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, and reduce the backlog of non-COVID-19 care. 
  • Provide clear guidance about environmental and behavioural precautions that individuals and organisations can take to protect themselves and others from infection.

In working to achieve these priorities and address the challenges ahead, efforts need to focus on promoting the resilience of communities, populations and the health and social care system. While there is an understandable and intense desire for ‘normality’ to return, approaches will need to be adaptable and flexible to deal with a changing and uncertain landscape for the foreseeable future. Reducing health inequalities and developing rigorous, evidence-based approaches that are co-developed with relevant communities will be critical to the design and delivery of a successful and equitable response to the challenges that face us.

An Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Sir Stephen Holgate CBE FMedSci, contributed to the development of this report (see ‘Expert Advisory Group and additional expertise’ tab). Their discussions were informed by a Patient and Carer Reference Group, and a series of public discussion workshops led by Ipsos MORI (see ‘Public involvement activities’ tab).

The full report, public summary, perspective piece from the Patient and Carer Reference Group, and Ipsos MORI’s summary of findings from the public discussion workshops are available to download on the right-hand side of this page.

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