According to the recent report from the cross-party Health and Social Care committee of MPs, The NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.

What’s more, the cross-party committee saw evidence that, on current projections, almost a million new jobs will need to be filled in health and social care by the early part of the next decade. For me, there’s an argument we should be automating our way out of the NHS staffing crisis.

There are numerous reasons why the NHS is suffering its much-discussed staffing crisis. These range from the difficulties resulting from people retiring, the irresistible lure of other sectors, a lack of training and upskilling, or people not wanting to join because the job is perceived as high pressure. Perceptions have been impacted, of course, by COVID-19, and we’ve gone from people clapping and cheering the NHS on their doorsteps every week, to people abusing staff in emergency rooms while they’re waiting because of the staff shortage.

If the staff shortage is to be bridged, healthcare needs to appeal to those who wouldn’t normally consider a career in the sector. It needs to be competitive and work in today’s job hunters’ market; something automation can help with in different ways.

Automating HR processes

One way is to help HR with the traditional processes of identification, recruitment and onboarding. Speeding up the front end of that funnel to ensure people that have expressed an interest are contacted, interviewed, and have a pleasant and productive experience through the process while giving time back to HR teams.

We know from our work with many different NHS Trusts that existing processes can be clunky at times with long lead times. Even when the right candidate is found, it can be 12 or 18 weeks before they’re onboarded.

During that time, colleagues are being asked to do more with fewer resources, which impacts patient quality and safety and has negative implications for colleagues already at breaking point.

Augmenting workforces across hospitals with virtual workers 

Then we’ve got the virtual worker, who will work alongside colleagues and lighten their load. Capable of working 24-hours a day without interruption, sickness or leave, across every area of hospital – clinical or back office – the potential impact of these virtual workers is huge.

If there is a positive to have come out of COVID-19, it’s that it shone a light not only on the demands of the routine aspects of people’s roles but also on all the other aspects of day-to-day work processes and habits that steal time away from their core purpose. If they’re being asked to build relationships with and address patient needs, while also being asked to key information into four different systems and wait for notifications from somewhere else, it’s incredibly inefficient. In a hospital, this problem is acute, where the flow of departments and dispensing, A&E and ambulance services aren’t as well coordinated and interoperable as one might like.

Having a virtual worker to take care of the duplicated data entry will mitigate some of that demand and take some of that pressure off. By removing the need to physically go and perform tasks in multiple places for different reasons, personal efficiency increases, and the time lag is reduced versus the current set-up. Standardisation follows too, and the risk of human error is removed because virtual workers don’t deviate from rules and templates, they don’t get tired after long shifts, and they don’t get bored and lose focus.

Creating cognitive space for transformation leaders

Everything I’ve discussed above may all seem like a no-brainer, yet uptake of transformative, quick-win intelligent automation is still relatively low across the healthcare system. That’s nobody’s fault; it’s just a result of many leaders lacking the cognitive space to deliver the required digital transformation in a system that’s overloaded.

That’s why Agilisys has invested in a cutting-edge software that enables a different approach, one that identifies where automation can have the most significant impact. Soroco can be deployed to understand how the entire organisation works, showing process flows across multiple departments, not just on an application-by-application basis. It’s all about identifying where capacity can be created and where virtual workers – which offer approximately four times more productivity – can be best deployed.

By understanding where a colleague is moving from system to system and why, clearly presented to the leadership of trusts or hospitals, data-driven decisions can be made that focus attention on the areas that will move the needle the most for their organisation.

Just as we’re not focusing on single applications, we’re also not talking about national averages or a particular pain point that might be someone’s pet project.

We’re painting a complete and accurate picture of an organisation in a meaningful way, providing the information that allows them to address processes that will have the greatest impact on colleagues and the patient experience.

I could quickly write a list of five or ten most straightforward ways to automate processes in a hospital, but that would be disingenuous at best because HR is far more complex than that, and the challenges differ from hospital to hospital.

Positive impact

If we can identify precisely where bottlenecks are in an organisation, whether that’s in clinical or back office functions, and spot what’s stopping people from doing the thing that they want to do most in their daily working life, we can start to help healthcare teams focus on positive outcomes without the constraints of poor IT or a lack of interoperability, we will go a long way to retaining staff. Those who remain in their roles will be more positive about what they do, which in turn will help attract new talent.

If through task and process discovery, we can identify the areas across a hospital in which staff shortages are most acute, we can take transformation to the next level. Add in the transformation of HR processes through automation, and you start to provide much-needed relief to the staffing crisis.