Health December 19, 2019
Innovating to tackle the workforce crisis

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - Accountable Care Journal

The global healthcare workforce is due to be short of an estimated 18 million workers by 2030. The task of tackling the workforce issue is a monumental problem that will require cooperation from all sectors of the healthcare sphere in order to be resolved adequately. But how can such a vast problem be fixed?

Finding nearly 20 million trained, experienced and integrated healthcare workers across the globe within a decade is something that some might consider impossible. With the demand for healthcare ever-increasing, this requirement for workers has the potential to rise precipitously as the demand of the world population ebbs and flows.

There is clearly a crisis, but I think understanding what the problem looks like will enable us to begin to address, and identify, some possible solutions. ”

- Rupert Clarke, Head of Solutions Delivery, Allocate Software

In an interactive roundtable discussion at the Public Policy Projects Conference 2019, Steve Gardner and Rupert Clarke sat down with healthcare experts from a diverse range of sectors to examine some of the current solutions being developed around the world, with the aim of discussing how to reduce the current workforce burden. “The NHS is the largest employer in Europe and by far the largest in the UK.

On average, it provides around 41 million hours of work a week. But when the figures show that one in nine roles within the NHS isn’t being filled, then around three million hours of work a week are not being carried out,” said Rupert, putting the scale of the problem into perspective. “There is clearly a crisis, but I think understanding what the problem looks like will enable us to begin to address, and identify, some possible solutions. ”

Currently, innovations around digital health solutions show promising new ways to diagnose, treat and create care pathways that could greatly reduce the strain on health systems from the struggling workforce. This begs the question, where do we begin?

Efficiency improvement within the current workforce

The experts agreed the best place to start is by ensuring the existing workforce is correctly deployed. Enabling the existing workforce to be more efficient, as opposed to locating, training and securing new talent, is an approach that can be enacted right away and shared throughout hundreds, or even thousands, of organisations in similar scenarios.

Rupert offered the University Hospital of North Tees as an example, citing its use of smart tracking software to mobilise the workforce within the individual clinical setting and, through this, providing its clinicians with the ability to work in a multidisciplinary fashion.

“North Tees wanted to be able to move staff around the hospital outside their normal areas of work to ensure that the balance within the organisation is maintained,” he said.

“By using digital solutions they can now proactively identify patient security, need and dependency based on clinically validated tools, and are able to deploy staff into those areas relatively quickly. The software is actually the easiest part of the equation. ”

However, culture change across an organisation as enormous as the NHS might be trickier than expected. Participating audience members at the discussion concurred that implementing large-scale digital solutions may not be feasible across such a large network of hospital systems and that digital innovation should pertain to the needs of the institutions themselves.

Dr Naila Siddiqui Kamal is a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and has been clinically active for more than 30 years. She believes that implementing system-wide efficiency improvements might not work in the NHS’s best interest.

“I think there is a big divide in the appetite to pursue changes like these actively. I feel that there would be great inertia if you were to attempt to replicate the model from North Tees in one of the London hospitals, for instance. People are afraid to move into this zone of discomfort which is the most essential zone when you want to learn to create something new,” she said.

Jim Lannas, former associate director for the Department of Health Services and Workforce Development in the state of California, recommended that improving workplace culture and employee happiness was key to tackling the workforce problem.

We know that a large proportion of people employed in London don’t enjoy where they work. So much of leadership time is spent working on HR and interpersonal problems rather than ensuring development of the mission of the company,” he says.

“I spoke to Dr Wilson Wong, a researcher who has travelled the world talking about human capital, and asked him: ‘If you began to decrease that percentage of people who don’t enjoy their work, what would be the output? ’

“He told me that having the ability to move people into better cultural fits with others who share the same goals and operate with the same communication styles, can increase productivity output by 10, 20 or 30 per cent. The issue is that we have a hunger for talent and we fire people, or they leave because they don't fit the culture of the organisation. That’s where I think the biggest immediate in-house fix can be made. ”

Is the workforce crisis a losing battle?

However, is the international workforce crisis simply too big to fix? Is the problem unable to be tackled meaningfully? After panel members had discussed the technological solutions, the human resource management improvements, and new methods of developing talent, WHJ’s Steve Gardner concluded that the debate surrounding the “people problem” would continue for a long time yet.

“We’ve discussed the technological solutions that can help to solve the workforce crisis. We have new ways to triage people and to reduce demand in the system. We have software that can help us to employ our resources in the right places and there are great developments in ensuring people are in the positions where they enjoy doing what they want to do,” he says.

“But the simple fact of the matter is, no matter how much of this you do, there just aren’t enough people in the world to solve the problem. So, this debate will continue, I have no doubt about that. ”

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