Patchwork Health: How Can Technology Transform NHS Staffing?

Dr Anas Nader, CEO and Co-Founder of Patchwork Health, shares his expert insight around how technology can positively impact healthcare staffing

Dr Anas Nader is an NHS doctor and CEO and Co-Founder of Patchwork Health, a health tech scale-up on a mission to make truly flexible and sustainable working a reality for all healthcare staff. Co-created with the NHS, their technology and services have been embraced by over 50 healthcare organisations to date. Anas is also a former Darzi Fellow in Clinical Leadership and a former Clinical Innovation & Improvement Fellow.

He sat down with Healthcare Digital to share his expert insight around transforming healthcare staffing through digitisation.

What is the healthcare staffing crisis?

The NHS is facing a major staffing crisis. As our population grows and ages, the pressures on our health services are only increasing. This was already an acute issue, but the pandemic added an even greater burden on the NHS. To ensure we can meet this demand, we need a large, growing number of clinicians across the country ready to support patients. But, in reality, our health service is losing vast swathes of talent - creating the perfect staffing storm. 

Right now, it’s believed that the NHS has over 150,000 fewer full-time staff than it requires. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s estimated that this could increase to over 500,000 by 2036. Sadly, these shortages heap pressure on the hardworking staff who remain. This reality of intense working environments and lack of flexibility pushes many to the brink of burnout and sees them leaving the system for good, creating a vicious cycle. Indeed, according to the King’s Fund, one of the top two reasons staff leave the NHS is to improve work–life balance. According to the think tank, “the number leaving for these reasons has more than doubled since 2013/14”.
There’s a critical need to reverse these trends. We need to shore up retention for existing staff, whilst also attracting new, skilled clinicians to the system who want to remain there for the long term. 

Tell us about Patchwork Health

Patchwork Health was designed to help fix this chronic staffing reality. My colleague Dr Jing Ouyang and I started the business in 2016, having known each other throughout our medical careers. Our vision was to build a digital workforce solution that would better support and empower healthcare staff to remain in their roles by giving them access to truly flexible work, while helping managers to more easily, safely and cost-effectively plug staffing gaps. 

Since then, we’re proud that our technology and services have been embraced by 50+ healthcare organisations, supported 40,000+ healthcare workers, saved £80 million in workforce costs, and filled nearly 7.5 million hours worth of shifts in the last two years alone.

We work closely with NHS organisations to embed a range of different solutions that fully integrate with one another, including: temporary staff banks, which enable organisations to source temporary staff from their own pool of approved workers; ‘collaborative staff banks’, which help healthcare organisations team up with others in the same region to safely share a wider temporary staffing pool; an innovative new rostering solution which enables more flexible, sustainable staffing for permanent healthcare staff; and our Agency Manager platform which makes it easier for organisations to select the most appropriate and cost-effective temporary staff from external agencies when necessary. Patchwork Insights also provides teams with comprehensive data oversight, to monitor staffing trends, shift fill rates and pay rate escalations, and reliably plan ahead to prevent staffing gaps.

All the tools we develop are laser focused on helping to address NHS staffing challenges, enable more flexible, efficient and cost-effective workforce planning, and create a sustainable working environment for all healthcare staff. 

You launched Patchwork whilst working as a doctor — what was that like?

I have always loved my work as a medic on the frontline of the NHS. However, the intensity of life as an A&E clinician and the lack of flexibility around my schedule left me exhausted and experiencing symptoms of burn out. As I watched the talented colleagues around me face the same challenges, I just knew something needed to change. It was really tough to step back from full-time practice, but I felt confident that I could make a huge difference with Patchwork. 

My role as a clinician has proved invaluable during my time as a healthtech founder. Jing and I have both lived the problem we’re trying to solve, and so have many members of our team. That means we all understand the pressures our NHS partners and their staff are under. Effecting change within the NHS isn’t easy and all solutions need to be tailored towards the nuanced problems within the healthcare sector specifically. Our holistic understanding of the reality of life in the NHS is therefore hugely valuable and is what I believe sets us apart. 

What does the future hold for Patchwork?

Patchwork has developed hugely since we launched and we’re continually building out and improving our product. We began co-designing our staff bank solution with one trust Chelsea Westminster NHS Trust in London. This close partnership meant we weren’t developing or iterating solutions in a vacuum, but right on the frontlines of the healthcare system.  Since then, we've expanded to work with over 50 healthcare organisations to provide sustainable and flexible temporary staffing solutions. 

More recently, we launched Patchwork Rota, a new product which is developing every day to meet the needs of organisations and clinicians. The most exciting development in the coming weeks will be launching self-rostering as a core functionality - this will empower clinicians even more as they'll be able to have greater autonomy over their schedules, while ensuring safe staffing levels are met. 

We're extremely excited for what's still to come and the benefits we believe our solutions will bring to the health service. We’re looking forward to working closely with our incredible healthcare partners to make this a reality.

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