The right person for the job: How skills-based staffing can improve healthcare outcomes

The right person for the job: How skills-based staffing can improve healthcare outcomes

Skills-Based Staffing: the 5th of 5 ‘Outcomes-Based Staffing’ principles

As featured in Health Investor UK

The pressures of COVID-19 have exacerbated an existing staffing crisis in the health and social care sector, one that shows no sign of abating as the pandemic recedes. Staff are burning out, and higher numbers than ever before are considering early retirement or seeking alternative careers. We are staring into the face of a workforce shortage that is placing a heavy financial burden on healthcare organisations, and that is extremely detrimental both to patient outcomes and the wellbeing of remaining workers.  

There’s no vaccine against staff exodus, and it certainly won’t be resolved with short-term solutions. As sector leaders prepare for a post-pandemic future, a long-term shift in approach to workforce management is the only way forward. It’s time for ambitious change, for a reimagining of how the wealth of skills in the workforce are utilised. Embracing the benefits of skills-based staffing is a vital step towards improving organisational standards, and delivering best outcomes for workers, patients and employers. 

What is skills-based staffing?  

This powerfully simple workforce management strategy revolves around one central concept: finding the person with the right skills for the job, rather than the right job title. In practice, it involves looking beyond the narrow confines of title and rank in order to assign staff to the shifts and tasks which match their skill set. 

This means that as long as they possess the required skills, experience or training, any staff member could be assigned to fill any shift on a rota. It’s an approach commonly used in the US and in European healthcare institutions, but which hasn’t yet been widely adopted in the UK. 

The success of the emergency COVID measures (which temporarily cut through rostering red-tape to make sure that wards were safely staffed) proves that skills-based staff deployment is not only possible, but is highly impactful. To make this happen, stakeholders must embrace the permanent infrastructure that can make this work in the long term.  

Why do UK healthcare organisations need skills-based staffing?

In healthcare institutions across the country, rotas are typically siloed by job title rather than by skillset. In practice, this means it’s not possible for those without the appropriate rank or title to perform jobs that they are perfectly capable of completing. 

The result of this outdated, unresponsive system is that shift vacancies are frequent and hard to fill. This often means that staff are stretched too thinly and put at risk of burnout, with doctors in particular bearing the brunt of unnecessarily heavy workloads. 

For too long, siloed staffing has prevented the full utilisation of the talents, skills and experience of my colleagues in the healthcare workforce, and left staff unable to use their valuable experience to help patients. I wholeheartedly believe that this needs to change.

How can an organisation implement skills-based staffing?

Successful skills-based staffing requires the building of digital, automated hybrid rostering models that are integrated seamlessly into an end-to-end workforce management solution. 

When these are in place, the rota design starts with the activity itself - setting out exactly how many people with which specific skills are needed. The rota plan is then built in line with that need, and the rostering algorithm matches the individuals to that plan.  

When managers have access to these automated systems and streamlined processes, their  administrative burden is significantly reduced. This supports their delivery of efficiencies across the board, whilst helping them to achieve their goals in delivering new models of care. 

It’s important to note that rostering systems need regular refinement; an external rostering partner should make a commitment to ongoing system optimisation and configuration, service transformation and bespoke reporting on outcomes - throughout and after the system go-live. 

Furthermore, in order to ensure alignment with the strategic and operational needs of the leadership and management teams,  any new workforce solutions should be inherently user-friendly, and designed to reduce the workload of employers and admin teams. Features should include:

  • Fully-interoperable tech and services covering end-to-end needs

  • The automation of time-consuming and repetitive admin tasks

  • The cutting out of unnecessary steps in routine processes 

  • The digitising of analogue workflows

  • Allowances for the easy gathering and sharing of actionable data-driven insights to be gathered and shared

All of the above features will enable department managers and HR teams to make informed decisions and allows for organisational accountability around workforce planning.

How skills-based staffing improves outcomes for all 

Skills-based staffing truly does have the potential to deliver benefits to patients, organisations, workers and employers simultaneously - without compromising on safety.

For a start, having a wider pool of clinicians to assign work to means that service managers and HR teams can spend less time trying to fill vacancies and less money on agency staff. By investing in tech solutions that automatically and compliantly match appropriately skilled staff with clinical demand, these efficiencies can be multiplied. 

Furthermore, workers deployed via skills-based staffing enjoy higher job satisfaction, as they are able to use their experience to help patients in the most impactful way. This has knock-on implications for retention rates and for workforce morale, in addition to the alleviation of the stress and pressure which results from chronic understaffing. 

Ultimately, and crucially, patients benefit from receiving treatment from the most appropriate person - regardless of what their job title is. 

Building the health and social care workforce of the future 

The way in which healthcare is delivered is changing rapidly. The pace of tech innovation and treatment advancements has never been faster, and healthcare systems cannot remain stuck in the mud if they are to benefit from them. Evolved workforce management solutions are no longer just a nice idea for the future; they’re a must-have for today. 

A glance over to the US healthcare institutions, or to our European neighbours, reveals that skills-based staffing can work incredibly well in hospitals and integrated healthcare systems. Especially when it comes to handling sudden pandemic-era demand surges. Indeed, thanks to the ‘all hands on deck’ mindset to COVID-19 staffing, we’ve seen examples of how much ‘hidden’ talent exists in the workforce and how it can be effectively unlocked. 

Healthcare transformation teams can take inspiration from foreign and domestic success stories of similar innovations being rolled out, and focus on embedding hybrid rotas with the right skill mix that allow responsibilities to be spread more efficiently, and skills deployed in a more targeted, impactful way. 

As we’ve all come to appreciate more than ever before, the strength of the health sector is the strength of its people. By pioneering modern, flexible methods of harnessing these people’s skills, the sector can become stronger than ever. 

You can read about 'Outcomes-Based Staffing,' the paradigm shift set to transform healthcare staffing, here.

To apply to join the Patchwork Rostering Accelerator and help shape the future of healthcare, please get in touch at hello@patchwork.health.

Participating NHS Trusts are eligible for access to Patchwork’s rostering solution on attractive commercial terms, including free use periods and waiving all implementation fees.

Dr Anas Nader
written by:

Dr Anas Nader

CEO