How NHS staffing coped with coronavirus - in numbers

How NHS staffing coped with coronavirus - in numbers

As the NHS embarks on its COVID-19 recovery phase, now is the time to reflect on the lessons of the last few months. At Patchwork Health, we have been reviewing the data from our Patchwork Insights analytics platform in order to better understand how the pandemic affected NHS staffing patterns, how staff recruitment and deployment ought to be managed during the recovery, and what can be done to prepare for a possible second peak.  

Key insights

  • COVID-19 shifts: During the first half of April (when infection rates peaked), 46% of all shifts booked via the Patchwork platform were labelled as COVID-19 shifts. By June this had fallen to 27%. 

  • Booking lead time: On average, each shift advertised on the Patchwork platform was booked by a bank worker within 24 hours, a significant improvement on the standard 7-day lead time prior to the pandemic. 

  • Speciality demand: Unsurprisingly, the Acute and Emergency Medicine specialism saw the biggest increase in COVID-19-related shifts. In April, we recorded a 40% increase in hours worked in these specialities - although as of June this began to return to the pre-COVID baseline. 

  • Agency usage: Throughout the pandemic, agency workers filled just 11% of total shift hours - a 10% decrease from the pre-pandemic norm. 

  • Patchwork digital staff bank bookings: We saw over 3,000 new healthcare professionals join the Patchwork Health app during the pandemic, driving our 2020 shift bookings growth by 106%. 

  • The start of the recovery: In May and June, advertised shift vacancies reduced significantly as the pandemic subsided. Temporary staffing demand has now returned to the pre-pandemic baseline, and staffing demands are being met by redeployed substantive staff (contracted NHS staff redeployed to COVID-19 frontline). 

COVID-19 Shifts Requested

COVID-19 Shift Fill Rates

Key takeaways 

On analysing this data, it was revealed that the bulk of the COVID-19 response work within the NHS was shouldered by the Trust staff bank workers. However, after the pressures the initial peak had subsided, re-deployed substantive staff have been predominantly filling the gaps.

Although some redeployed staff have found the opportunity to work in a different setting and specialty rewarding and will return to their normal working patterns with a stronger skillset (source), Trusts must take proactive steps to mitigate the risk of burnout amongst all of their staff - whether frontline or support, staff bank or substantive.

To support this goal,  we will be rolling out new functionality across our Insights platform, enabling Trusts to identify at-risk staff and target their support appropriately. 

Looking ahead

One notable positive outcome from the first half of 2020 has been the increase in Trusts’ internal bank recruitment. By onboarding staff at a much higher rate, Trusts have been able to dramatically reduce shift vacancies without relying on locum agencies. With demand for additional staff slowing, now is the moment to clear any remaining recruitment backlogs and also to reflect on other opportunities to improve the efficiency of the bank recruitment processes and build greater workforce resilience. The Patchwork Health Customer Success team has recently supported a number of Trusts with this exercise and are ready to work with more partners this summer to support their transformation programmes. 

It’s impossible to conclude without praising the dedication and tireless efforts of all NHS staff throughout the pandemic. The data we have analysed reveals a mammoth team effort to be at the root of the NHS’s success - from the cohort of newly-qualified doctors and nurses rushing to support Trusts’ frontline, to the temporary staffing teams who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure safe staffing levels.  We may not be fully clear of the COVID-19 risk yet, but we know that we’ve got an NHS capable of getting us through. 

For more information on Patchwork Insights, please visit: https://www.patchwork.health/products/#patchworkinsights

Richard Lucas and Jeremy Lavollee
written by:

Richard Lucas and Jeremy Lavollee