Karen West, Head of Transformation for Mental Health at DigitalHealth.London Accelerator alumnus company Oxehealth, reflects on how technology could help tackle the current NHS workforce crisis.
Few healthcare providers would disagree that the overwhelming issue currently facing them and likely to be facing them for years to come is one of staff retention and recruitment. The recent Health and Social Care Committee report on Workforce recruitment and retention merely reiterated what we already know – there are significant, persistent vacancies across healthcare against a backdrop of growing demand.
The solutions seem sound – proper workforce planning, increased pay and funding for training as well as tackling discrimination and increasing flexibility. But these are not quick fixes and not easy to achieve, particularly in light of current economic pressures. And in the meantime, the vacancy gap puts added pressure on existing staff …some of whom will then leave…increasing the vacancies. You get my drift. So what can we do now to make things better?
After a shift spent firefighting, without proper time to talk to patients, you go home feeling like you didn’t do a good job for them or make best use of your skills .Anya Gopfert, Junior doctor and Clinical Fellow at the Health Foundation
There are many reasons why staff leave healthcare. However, it is clear that pressure, stress, culture and disillusionment at the quality of care provided to patients play a significant role . Even if staff don’t leave, these factors can have a significant impact. In one month alone, the British Medical Association  found that 2 million days  were lost to sickness, anxiety, stress or depression.
So how can technology help?
Our daily lives are surrounded by technology that saves us time (my weekly family shop is now done in approximately 5 minutes while munching toast), helps us to make better decisions (finding cheaper deals with comparison websites) and increases enjoyment (on demand entertainment). It’s not surprising then that our expectations for technology in work are correspondingly higher. What we value in a job was also changing even before the accelerant provided by the pandemic. The 2017 Good Work review of modern working practices  found that people want meaningful work where they have autonomy, feel their work makes a contribution, and feel listened to. Views echoed by the excellent Courage for Compassion report by the King’s Fund .
The system is part of our team… It’s our 6th team member of staff on the night shift…it cannot do the hands-on care, but it can give you more time [for the hands-on care.]”Linda Fitzpatrick, Ward Manager, Stanley Ward, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust.
As part of our learning at Oxehealth, we track the impact our Oxevision technology is having through surveys and quantitative studies. We focus on the patient – the quality of care provided to them and their experience of that care. And our studies provide fantastic insight into how staff are using technology to support them in reducing incidents and improving patient care and experience.
Serious incidents (SI) can have a significant psychological impact on staff. The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch National Learning report noted that at an organisational level, SIs can result in increased levels of sickness, increased turnover of staff and reduced morale, more conservative management of patients and decreased discharges .
But we are also supplementing this by asking staff how this is impacting their experience at work. Does it help them feel safe? Do they feel that they are able to do their job better? Do they feel they have more time to focus on what is important? And increasingly we are going to be looking at how our technology can support teamwork (through transparent, real-time information), learning, autonomy and upskilling so staff can have a really good day at work.
Time to ask for a new KPI for technology investment?
I’ve supported healthcare leaders in writing dozens of business cases for health-tech investment and the rationale is invariably based on:
- Improving quality of patient care;
- Improving patient experience; and
- Return on investment.
You can’t disagree with these, but given the current staff pressures not to mention the clear link between staff and patient experience, isn’t it time we also asked how technology will improve staff experience?
Staff wellbeing is an antecedent, not a consequence, of patient care performance. Thus seeking systematically to enhance staff wellbeing is not only important in its own right but also for the quality of patient experiences.Professor Jill Maben, Lead Researcher and Director of the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College, London .
Oxehealth has greatly valued the support the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator team has provided, facilitating engagement and awareness of our technology with NHS Trusts and key stakeholders and providing fantastic insight and challenge from their experience of bringing technology to healthcare providers.
Over the next few weeks we will be actively reaching out to Trusts across the NHS with information about how technology can support them to ease staffing pressures.
To find out more please visit oxehealth.com.
 The NMC register 1 April 2021 – 31 March 2022
 Full time equivalent days
 The Health Foundation: Improving the health and wellbeing of 1.6m NHS employees newsletter feature, March 2019
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Oxehealth is an alumni company of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.