This article is authored by Dr Anas Nader, co-founder and CEO of Patchwork Health: a UK company on a mission to transform and protect the future of healthcare staffing, putting flexibility and humanity at the centre.
As a medical student on my first hospital placement, I remember a senior doctor advising me on the importance of ‘putting myself first’ through the years of training and medical practice that lay ahead of me. “No one can pour from an empty cup” she said, which at the time struck me as a strange turn of phrase. After all, I was going into medicine to help others; surely this wasn’t the moment to be acting selfishly?
Over a decade on from that conversation, I now understand exactly what she meant.
Struggling to pour from an empty cup is a metaphor that gets right to the heart of what it’s like to experience burnout as a healthcare worker in 2021. Everything in you wants to deliver the very best care to your patients, but you’re often exhausted, stressed and stretched too thinly. You feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, sometimes wondering if you’ll have to walk away from the career you love.
I went through that rollercoaster of emotions during my years as a doctor, and I know of countless peers who also reached, or came perilously close to reaching, the point of burnout. I stepped back from the frontline and co-founded Patchwork Health, because I wanted to see all healthcare careers made both fulfilling and sustainable. But we’ve got a long way to go.
Statistics show that in the UK, 1 in 5 doctors are considering leaving the NHS for another career as a result of excessive workload, stress and burnout. This will add to the soaring number of vacancies – a figure which currently stands close to 90,000 in England.
But how did we get to this point? And is this crisis terminal or curable?
From slow cooker to pressure cooker: mapping the road to burnout
It’s impossible to talk about the burnout crisis without highlighting the phenomenal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The heavy burden that is placed on the global health system has landed directly on the shoulders of all health and social care staff, from consultants and nurses to porters and pharmacy workers. Waiting lists are longer, exhaustion levels are higher.
But the reality is that healthcare staff had been simmering in a burnout slow cooker for years before entering the pandemic pressure oven. Today the pandemic is no longer headline news, but for healthcare workers, extreme stress and often unhealthy working norms are sadly going nowhere.
Motivated by a search for efficiencies, organisations are forced to use inflexible workforce management technologies that dictate to clinicians where and when to go. Clinicians are stripped of autonomy over their schedules, meaning it’s almost impossible for them to plan their own holidays or days off. Fitting in essential training or recovery time is a nightmare owing to the outdated workforce management software the majority of NHS admin teams must use.
The wellbeing of the individual clinician has become an afterthought. The bottom line is that unfortunately many clinicians do not feel valued, but instead feel treated as a staff number on a system, a tool for getting the job done.
This is leading to low morale, burnout and exit. Many staff are choosing to work for agencies to secure the flexibility they need. Whilst agencies play an important role in keeping hospitals safely staffed, an automatic overreliance on them drives up costs for employers. This allocation of resources then has a knock-on impact on patient care. Change can’t come quickly enough.
Flexibility without compromise: what could good look like?
As a doctor, I feel hopeful because I know that solutions to this crisis do exist. However, these solutions require bold action, a combination of macro and micro-level thinking, tech investment and multi-party collaboration.
It’s clear that it’s system failures, not people failures, that are preventing the very best outcomes from being achieved in the NHS. If we are to see positive change, transformation of workforce technology systems is where we must start. New technology systems must have collaboration and efficiency at their centre, built on the foundations of cross-border working and intuitive, labour-saving process automation.
By harnessing intelligent technology and smart algorithms we can deliver new workforce management systems that accommodate for clinician preferences as much as possible. This must and can be achieved without sacrificing predictability over workforce planning and without compromising on safety.
In such systems, genuine flexible working could be made a reality for all staff; empowering them to manage their own career development, staying and growing in their roles for longer.
If my years on hospital floors have taught me anything, it’s that when clinicians’ time and individual needs are respected and valued, they are happier, healthier, and more resilient. Their cups are kept full, and ultimately, this is what’s going to lead to better outcomes for organisations and patients.
Improving health outcomes across Europe
We can’t afford to wait any longer to embrace new ways of creating a sustainable workforce. New systems and approaches are the only route towards preserving the high standards of care we expect from our healthcare providers and safeguarding the future of hard-working clinicians.
I’m proud that Patchwork Health is pioneering staffing solutions and is already working with over 70 NHS organisations to introduce a modern, sustainable approach to workforce management.
But we want everyone to join us on our mission, unlocking the untapped potential in the European healthcare workforce and to make burnout a thing of the past.
Together, we can make staffing borderless, humanising, and most importantly, flexible; allowing our healthcare workers and employers to lead the thriving and rewarding careers they deserve, whilst delivering the best possible care to our patients.
About Patchwork Health
Patchwork Health was founded by two NHS doctors – Dr Anas Nader and Dr Jing Ouyang. The healthtech company are pioneers of ‘Outcomes-Based Staffing;’ a revolutionary approach to healthcare workforce management. Through this approach, Patchwork commits to delivering outcomes that genuinely matter to NHS employers, clinicians and patients. They enable staff to work flexibly and sustainably, whilst delivering the best possible care to patients.
Patchwork’s staff bank platform, rostering and other end-to-end workforce management solutions can be set up for use by any NHS organisation, for all staff groups, in as little as five days. Over the last year, the number of NHS sites partnering with Patchwork has increased to over 70 NHS organisations. During the same time, the Patchwork team has grown by 100%, taking the headcount to over 100 people. Patchwork Health have been recipients of the prestigious HSJ Partnership Award and the Spectator’s Economic Innovator of the Year Award.