Co-designing success: How a suite of solutions is helping keep NHS staff safe

If we can take any lessons forward from the last 10 months, it’s that the NHS’s strength lies in the dedication and skill of its 1.3 million staff. They’ve worked tirelessly throughout the spring, summer, autumn and winter to keep the country running. Under relentless pressure, they’ve battled the pandemic without respite. Now, as 2021 begins and COVID cases continue to rise at pace, NHS staffing managers find themselves wrestling with twin concerns: how to keep their wards safely staffed, and how to keep their staff safe on the wards. 

Working with NHS Trusts across the UK to solve both problems is doctor-led company Patchwork Health. Founded with the goal of unlocking flexible working opportunities in the NHS, Patchwork spent 2020 tailoring their tech-enabled staff bank management solution to meet the unique demands of COVID-19. 

The core function of their technology and services are to match clinicians looking to take control of their schedules with vacant shifts broadcast by NHS Trusts. It’s a mutually beneficial marketplace; clinicians are given access to flexible work on self-selection terms, whilst Trusts can guarantee high fill rates for every shift, cut their agency staff spend, and enjoy the time-saving advantages of increased automation. Wrapped around this core offering is a highly personalised package of additional support and ongoing performance monitoring; the Patchwork solutions are unique to the particularities of each Trust partner, crafted and refined in close collaboration with stakeholders at all levels. 

When the sudden surge in COVID admissions triggered record demands on staffing, Trusts’ reliance on Patchwork’s services and solutions increased exponentially. The team quickly turned their efforts to onboarding new NHS partners, with bank implementation time accelerated to just 10 days. Thousands of new clinicians were brought into their pool of reserve staff, and the London COVID-19 Digital Staff Bank was launched to manage temporary staffing across 14 of the capital’s hospitals. 

As the months pass by with no sign of the longed-for return to normality, the priorities of Trust managers have shifted. This virus is not going away, even if the vaccine might offer some level of protection, and so they must now also find a way to monitor and minimise the risks which COVID-19 poses to their at-risk staff members. With their eyes fixed on these shared goals,  the answer from Patchwork Health is a new digital tool, now fully integrated into their bank management system and wider portfolio of services. 

This tool works to make existing Trust risk assessments more impactful, more efficient, and more secure. Currently, labour-intensive manual assessments form the basis of risk monitoring systems used by Trusts, and are based on the fact that certain groups of people face a higher risk of contracting the virus and of developing serious complications. The Patchwork tool is designed to streamline and secure these assessments.  

With strict permission controls in place, the tool enables Patchwork’s partner Trusts to upload the risk profiles of their bank staff onto the Patchwork bank management system. Based on internal risk classifications, the system (and the accompanying data analysis service) allows hiring managers to monitor who is booking onto which shifts, and maintain a detailed report of their risk management – without the need for manual updates to spreadsheets and the associated data security issues.

This real-time reporting has the power to protect all NHS team members, enabling them to work safely and risks to be monitored accurately. Crucially, this system is also protecting the sensitive data that is shared by individuals, as all information is fully encrypted and only shared directly with certain elected managers.

From Liverpool to London, it’s inspiring to see how Trusts have embraced new digital technology and service solutions born from pandemic-driven innovation. Companies like Patchwork have stepped up to the complexity of COVID challenges, and are supporting the NHS to put the needs of their staff front and centre. Most importantly, there’s a growing recognition that solutions must be developed and implemented in dialogue with the Trusts, not parachuted in. Patchwork have seen remarkable successes in their partnerships thus far because they pursue an ongoing relationship with Trusts as their services are monitored, iterated and refined.

So, the new year begins, a few green shoots of optimism lie on the horizon. The road to recovery is still set to be long, but by investing in and championing tools which bring true flexibility and safety to staffing, our heroic healthcare workers have the support they need to keep saving lives. Dr Anas Nader, CEO at Patchwork Health. 

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