What could a future post pandemic look like?

By Rebecca McGirr

It has been over a year since we turned on our TVs and with one shocking announcement our lives changed dramatically.

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected our lives in an unprecedented way. We have had to adapt and make changes in order for our society to function.

Now a year on and with vaccinations continuing to roll out what could a future post pandemic look like?

Aodhan Connolly Head of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Barry McMenamin, Regional Manager for Mencap Northern Ireland and Doctor Declan Gallagher share a glimpse into what our future could look like post pandemic.

Aodhan Connolly Head of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

E- Commerce has accelerated during the pandemic, Connolly says it has “accelerated that pace of change, in fact what we have seen is that there has been about 10 years change in a few months.”

So because of this change will there still be a high street post pandemic?

He says, “we’ve a lot of different types of shoppers in Northern Ireland. I always use the example of my mum and dad. My dad orders something and gets it delivered, it’s about the transaction. For my mum though she says she is going in to town for 5 minutes and takes about 2 hours because she will talk to people, it’s a social interaction. And that’s why while internet retailing will continue to grow there will always be a place for the high street.”

Due to this change in consumer behaviour in relation to jobs in retail he says that “there will be fewer jobs, but better jobs and more highly skilled jobs in retail and that’s been something we have been saying since 2010.”

He says, that the difficulties retailers will face after the pandemic is that they “are going to have to work harder to get people to not only spend their money but also to spend their time in our towns and cities. There will be people who have got into the rhythm of buying online, and we need for them to look at the high street with fresh eyes.”

In order to encourage shoppers back to the high street he explains that retailers cannot do this alone.

He says, “we need local government, we need the town centre managers, we need BIDS to work with us if we are going to come through this and make sure that our high streets get back to some sort of normality.”

Barry McMenamin Regional Operations Manager for Mencap Northern Ireland

As regional manager for Mencap Northern Ireland McMenamin’s job role entails a lot of responsibility.

He says, that before Covid “most of my days would have been out and about travelling all across Northern Ireland, attending meetings, monitoring visits to services, attending meetings with commissioners.”

“I also would have travelled to England 2 or 3 times a month and I mostly try to travel over and back in the same day which meant very early starts.”

Once the pandemic struck and lockdown was announced like a lot of organisations McMenamins’s job role drastically changed and he was now working from home.

He explains that there were both advantages and disadvantages as a result of this.

He says, “some of the positives were that of course you were at home you were not arriving home from somewhere else after a long day. But there is also the disadvantage of not being able to get out and about.”

In relation to the work pattern of employees in the organisation he says that after the pandemic there are definitely going to be changes.

He says, “there is probably going to be a hybrid approach to working in offices and working at home. We have just introduced a new flexible working policy which gives much more opportunities for people where they can work from home.”

 He says that they will be “reviewing how many offices we have and do we need them all.”

McMenamin explains that “travelling across Northern Ireland and to England is probably going to be reduced now that we have got virtual ways of working established. This will cut down some of the costs and in terms of our green credentials I thinks that’s going to be a focus too, we’ve learnt now that we do not need to make all those trips.”

He sums up “there’s value in meeting people in person but I think it’s not going to be all the time we are doing that.”

Doctor Declan Gallagher

Due to Covid 19, GP practices had to move away from pre booked face to face appointments to telephone and video consultation appointments.

Gallagher explains that there has been many advantages of this for patients.

He says, “the telephone consultation system has eliminated the three to four week waiting time for a routine appointment as a GP will carry out a telephone consultation with their patients later that same day.”

He says that “telephone or video consultation appointments have proven to be more convenient for many of our patients. Fewer patients need to take time away from their work or spend time in a busy waiting room in order to see their GP.”

However, he says that “one issue often reported across many GP surgeries is patients find it more difficult to get through to their surgery by telephone .Our own surgery is taking steps to address this, including updating our telephone system and encouraging the use of online repeat prescription ordering, which we hope will ease congestion on our incoming telephone lines.”

Gallagher explains that some of the measures introduced by the GP practice could potentially remain in place after the pandemic.

He says, “patients have become familiar with the same day telephone consultation service as well as the relative convenience that it offers.”

He thinks “it is unlikely that we will return to a system where patients will be expected to or willing to accept a three to four week wait for a routine appointment.”

“In much the same way as many of us are now familiar with working from home, with online banking and online shopping, I think it will be increasingly normal practice to access at least part of our health care remotely, a reality made possible through ever improving access to mobile, telephone and internet technology,” he says.

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