Digital needs to be an enabler for your workforce, not a barrier; in this section, you’ll hear from Patchwork as they describe how their solution can help your staff make the most of digital. We also share views and thoughts from the health tech community. 

Patchwork Health: Unlocking the power of collaborative ICS-wide staffing

The NHS is facing a number of significant challenges when it comes to staffing. Clunky, outdated tech is making workforce planning a slow and complicated process for ICSs, leaving little flexibility and leading to an overreliance on costly third party agencies to plug staffing gaps and meet soaring demand. This is costing the NHS billions.

With the recent formalisation of ICSs across the UK, we’re seeing an accelerated need for more collaborative workforce planning as organisations begin working together to maintain safe staffing levels across larger areas and deploy staff more flexibly in line with patient demand.

At Patchwork Health, we’re working with over 100 healthcare sites to help drive this change and support ICSs to tackle the root causes of the staffing crisis.

Collaborative ICS-wide staffing in action

Our end-to-end workforce solution unlocks truly sustainable workforce planning by digitising key staffing processes and increasing system-wide visibility. We provide this through a range of products, including temporary staff banks, collaborative staff banks, our new rota management tool, and our Agency Manager, which supports workforce teams to organise agency staffing where necessary. These make it easier for workforce teams to plan more efficiently and safely, while boosting retention by making it possible for staff to work flexibly in line with their own personal and professional commitments.

One of the central ways we’re able to support ICS-wide staffing is through the creation of Collaborative Staff Banks, which bring together multiple Trusts within a single region, and enable them to share a wider pool of available temporary workers from which to plug shift gaps and meet fluctuating regional demand.

In return, approved workers are able to pick up shifts across a much larger number of sites, giving them the flexibility to work the shifts that suit them best. Their credentials can be digitally passported, removing any delays caused by repeated compliance checks. This flexibility helps increase shift fill rates, lowering the number of staffing gaps and reducing overreliance on costly external agencies.

Using the Patchwork Insights data reporting tool, all participating Trusts are able to access comprehensive workforce data from right across the collaborative bank. This enables them to monitor staffing trends and identify any gaps or areas of need, increasing workforce predictability.

This is already showing significant impact in practice. Our North West Collaborative Bank (NWCB) – the largest of its kind in the UK – has brought together 24 partner Trusts from across the region, filled 171,000 hours of shifts and retained over £6 million in the NHS within its first 2 years.

The bank currently enables up to 6000 medics to work flexibly across each of the participating Trusts, helping the ICS reliably meet fluctuating demand. With 90% of trainees accepted onto the NWCB within 48 hours, medics are able to easily access more flexible working, boosting long-term engagement and retention.

Collaborative workforce planning has a central role to play in supporting ICSs to tackle the current staffing crisis. As part of a comprehensive, end-to-end workforce system, Patchwork Health’s Collaborative Staff Banks are handing ICSs the tools to sustainably achieve this, making workforce planning more reliable, efficient and flexible in the long-term. This is helping boost staff retention and optimise patient outcomes as a result.

Health tech community on workforce challenges

At HTN, we interview a range of people – from NHS professionals to wider industry figures, digital transformation project managers to health tech suppliers.

Workforce is a topic that comes up a lot, whether it’s a conversation about recruitment and retention, digital literacy, digital inclusion, or digital confidence. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the key comments from our interviewees when it comes to the health and care workforce.

Henrietta Mbeah-Bankas, head of blended learning at Health Education England, on the core skills required for digital work 

“These skills are applicable across all sectors, across all professionals, so I would absolutely say that they are the ones that we all need to be able to either do digital at work or even carry out our day-to-day digital activity. We need to be able to manage and use data and information and manage content – that’s one of the domains on our capability framework, which everybody needs at some level.

“We need to be able to use digital skills for a variety of things – teaching others and learning, communicating and participating in the digital world, but also for collaboration. For example, Zoom – everyone is on it after the pandemic, and you need technical skills even for the basics like setting up your password.

“Then you need the ability to create, innovate and use digital or online processes for research. To be honest, that’s one area that even digital experts sometimes do not see as a required digital skill. But you absolutely do need that.

“In all of this, I think it’s important that we think about safety and well-being when we are online – having that awareness of whether or not your activity is safe and being able to maintain digital safety and well-being is crucial alongside all the other skills.”

Henrietta on what the industry needs most in order to improve digital literacy

“I always say we need three things to be in place. You need to pay attention to all three because if you only pay attention to one and not the other in any digital implementation, it doesn’t actually work.

“Firstly, you need to really address the needs of people. What skills have people got? Have we got the right people? If they’re in digital roles, have they got the specialist skills to be in that role?

“Then onto processes… sometimes we bring in all the nice technologies or all the training and skills, but people are not allowed to upload relevant apps or access relevant webpages on work devices. Process is important to bear in mind. As part of processes, you also need to think about culture. What culture have we got in place within this organisation that actually facilitates people being able to use digital? Do people feel that they are allowed to get it wrong sometimes, and do they have the confidence to say if they don’t understand something? 

“And then the third thing is the technology. If we train people and have all the right cultures and all the right processes in place, and yet the technology doesn’t do what it says on the tin… we’re going to put people off. So, we need the right technology in the right hands. We must consider who is using what, and whether it is the appropriate technology for them?”

Chris Mason, chief information officer at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on engaging with the workforce

“We include clinicians and operational staff in the prioritisation process. We don’t gather as an IT function and decide where the focus of our staff is placed, we talk with divisions and get them to prioritise their pieces of work. Then a digital and clinician team sit down together to discuss what to prioritise, based on set criteria – what risks we are trying to mitigate, what benefits we are trying to deliver… the process has a lot of buy-in from the divisions and that has really helped us to focus efforts efficiently. 

“If people are invested and committed to ideas that they have helped prioritise, then when those ideas turn into projects, I think people tend to be fully committed and buy into them. Starting this right at the beginning and getting people engaged pays off in the long-term.

“I think in general; the digital field can face workforce challenges. We’re looking at how we can attract new talent to the team and transition staff over from other industries. Digital staff are in high demand. We like to grow our own where possible and in terms of progress, using myself as an example – staff can see that I’ve had the opportunity to move through the team, which I think sets a good example in terms of progression.

“We are committed to creating the best working environment where we can retain talent within the department, too. We got some new offices recently so as people are coming back in following the pandemic, they’ve got a good environment and I think that is definitely helping to attract people to come in and work together. The new branding, our clear strategy and sense of identity is another aspect of that, too.”

Lisa Emery, chief transformation, innovation and digital officer at NHS Sussex, on supporting the workforce experience 

“I get excited about the work that we can do collectively to make people’s care experience more joined up. It sounds very simple but it’s actually quite complex. It’s the work around bringing our partners together, like our social care colleagues, the voluntary sector, the emergency services.

“This work can really change the experience for our workforce, who can really struggle with the disjointedness of systems. It’s about making their working life much better and giving them time back to interact with people. For the people accessing our services, it’s about looking for ways to break down barriers and provide a more seamless experience.

“Looking to the future, there’s definitely a lot of exciting work to come with things like virtual care and augmented intelligence. But I think there’s a job of work for us to do first, to really help our workforce and our population experience care in a different way. That needs to be our immediate priority.”

Jeffrey Wood, deputy director of ICT at The Princess Alexandra NHS Foundation Trust, on developing digital across the workforce

 “We’re really fortunate at Princess Alexandra that our chief clinical information officer and head of digital nursing have joined us. Before them we found it difficult to get the information out to the right places, and to encourage people to use things.

“To support people with technology, we have set-up our equivalent to an Apple squad – we have our own tech bar that we have on a Tuesday and Thursday morning where anyone can drop in and ask any questions to the IT team in a nice lounge type environment. That’s made big difference.”