Utilising the clinical workforce between remote and base

01 February 2022 By Michael Bowyer

​As the UK continues to combat the Covid-19 outbreak, many healthcare organisations are planning their trajectory towards a ‘new normal’. This will involve:

  • Tackling a backlog of care

  • Navigating additional demand created by patients who have developed health concerns at home but haven’t chosen to seek help during the pandemic

  • Preparations for a potential spike in Coronavirus cases during the winter period

  • Planning for seasonal pressures

Healthcare trusts will need to carefully evaluate their existing workforce and how they can return to delivering more of the services people need, as well as remaining responsive to the potential ongoing threat of Coronavirus. Organisations will need to identify any skills gaps and get the right nurses on their rotas as soon as possible before winter pressures kick in and staff availability is heavily reduced. As well as thinking about potential workforce needs, the healthcare sector must also prepare their existing staff for more hybrid service models as face-to-face appointments begin to rise.

Current challenges facing healthcare organisations’ provision of care

Last year was the most challenging winter period on record and healthcare staff are tired. Many organisations have been experiencing absences due to burnout, sickness and from people needing to self-isolate. While these absences will begin to recover, to aid the rapid return to ‘business as usual’ healthcare organisations must not only ensure the wellbeing of their staff, but have a bank of temp or locum professionals they can access to fill shifts quickly and efficiently. Other obstacles on the road to recovery include:

  • Difficult decisions over what services are safe to resume

Whilst responding to the pandemic, services were moved online and there was a unique blend of telephone assessments, face-to-face care and digital solutions. Healthcare organisations need to decide what services are safe to resume, to what to degree, and what needs to be prioritised.

  • Planning for potential outbreaks

Healthcare services will need to be fully prepared at local, regional and national levels for any future waves of Covid-19 and for the potential need for further mass vaccination against new variants.

  • How to fund service expansion

When there are spikes in patient demand, healthcare organisations will need to establish where best to spend additional funding to maintain continuity of care.

  • Balancing routine care with ongoing Covid vaccinations

Healthcare organisations will be faced with the challenge of delivering routine care alongside the mass delivery of ongoing vaccination efforts that will be required to ensure protection from Covid. Making sure the sector is properly resourced, including establishing business continuity plans, will be key.

How to plan for the return of face-to-face appointments

Depending on patient need, healthcare organisations must prepare their workforce for yet another shift in service offerings. Remote consulting played an incredibly important role when reducing the spread of infection and will continue to play a significant part in healthcare services moving forward.

It will be critical to have strict policies in place to ensure patients and healthcare staff are kept safe and that the right decisions are made by existing teams. Staff may also need extra training to readjust back to face-to-face consultations, as well as taking necessary precautions to ensure the spread of the virus is reduced at all times by having the necessary PPE. Other factors to consider during the gradual return to in-person appointments include:

  • Optimising remote access to ensure staff can continue to provide patient care from home if required

  • Facilitating virtual staff meetings to coordinate patient care

  • Establishing policies on how to determine if patients require a virtual, telephone or face-to-face appointment (new and follow up)

Managing telephone assessments and triage

Less experienced nurses may need further training on how to carry out a successful telephone consultation, as they require a different set of skills and carry unique challenges. For example, you’re less able to pick up on visual cues when consulting on the phone and it can be difficult to extract the right information from patients when you’re unable to directly observe them, which heightens risk. In-person appointments make it easier to create a more open and trusted environment, where the patient and healthcare professional can have a relationship that is nurturing.

Healthcare organisations should ensure that both existing and new staff have the necessary skills for effective telephone assessments, whether for triage alone or a full clinical assessment and advice. When hiring prospective staff, it’s good to look out for:

  • Prior experience and training in triage

  • Broad work experience so knowledge-base and patient type is wider

  • High-level communication skills

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem solving

How to access the healthcare professionals you need quickly:

Having access to flexible and quickly deployed skill mixes is vital for filling rotas in the most cost-effective way, especially when there is continued pressure on the NHS and private facilities to provide exceptional patient care. Here at Medical Staffing, we’ve made it our mission to find the best ways to provide healthcare talent based on the individual – and often changing – needs of an organisation.

If you would like to discuss staffing issues, find flexible resourcing solutions that suit the individual needs of your organisation, or just get have some questions answered about how to capitalise on funding in your healthcare organisation so that you feel well prepared for the winter, we would be happy to speak with you.

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