How scheduling tech is facilitating the future of NHS education centres


Denise Williamson, managing director at healthcare room scheduling specialists, BookWise Solutions, offers a snapshot of how technology and education departments in Trusts have been working in synergy to increase efficiencies and overcome some of Covid-19’s challenges

Following the huge impact Covid-19’s peak had on the nation’s hospital corridors and ICU units, a ‘post-pandemic’ care backlog could always have been expected. However, news headlines and quotes from Health Secretary Sajid Javid have highlighted just how important finding efficiencies in the NHS will be in the coming years.

Bold announcements in November 2021 outlined reforms that put education and training at the centre of its strategy to rebuild the NHS workforce, and upkeep standards of care. Mergers make up a big part of this - Health Education England (HEE), which coordinates education and training for public health staff, and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I), are set to join in a move which would make healthcare staff recruitment and retention an NHS priority. NHS Digital and NHSX are also due to integrate with NHSE/I, with hopes of accelerating digital transformation in the NHS.

Although the NHS reports to have high levels of staff and training programmes, numerous factors are affecting workforce gaps which become more crucial as the service recovers from the pandemic. As a result, the Delivery Plan for Tackling the Covid-19 Backlog of Elective Care outlines that alongside attracting more talent, it aims to provide ‘more opportunities for current staff and those returning to practice to work flexibly and remotely, and to develop new skills to progress in their careers.’

It’s clear that the NHS sees the value in technology, and its abilities to streamline aspects that could transform the future of care - the backlog delivery plan also looks towards how digital systems could benefit the careers of those working within it.

I’ve seen this when working with our clients in outpatients departments, as well as those that work in each Trust’s education centre, which are soon to come into clear focus as per the backlog delivery plan. But even before the impact of the mergers are felt, technology and education departments have already been working in synergy.

A long term ambition

The pandemic spearheaded a huge digital transformation across the organisation, as remote working was enabled, GP appointments were moved online, and digital vaccination passes were developed. This has long been the ambition of the NHS, and was reaffirmed in the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019. While the pandemic undoubtedly caused delivery of digital-enabled healthcare to move forward fast, it’s important not to forget how it has affected and transformed internal teams and departments too.

Covid-19 exacerbated some of the workforce challenges in the NHS, but it also caused many departments to redefine their operations forever, and this is true in the education setting. Virtual seminars are now the norm and face-to-face meetings are less common. However, there are some elements such as practical simulation training that can never be replaced by technology.

Just like clinical care, efficiency in training centres is key - there’s no room for wasted resources, while quality of and access to training can’t be compromised. Equally, the staff and student experience is important - why would they stay with a Trust, or even a sector, that continuously leaves them frustrated, unable to progress in their career and realise their professional ambitions due to lack of access to training?

Increasing efficiencies

With three education centres across Preston and Chorley, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust runs training for students at Manchester University, as well as existing clinical staff. Managing the numerous complex demands of the centres was challenging. The Trust had long been using a digital room booking system to help – something that was echoed across its other departments, such as outpatients. However, as reporting processes and pulling data for audits became more important, the needs of the Trust changed, and we worked together to help. In this case, the choice wasn’t whether or not they need to invest in digital scheduling technology.- it was in choosing the right one.

Although the system they’d been using for five years did help to manage room bookings, it couldn’t gather and display data around actual room usage. Statistics such as ‘did not attend’ bookings and the percentage of clinical and non-clinical bookings were needed to facilitate strategic planning for the future. And as the NHS focusses more and more on making its services more efficient, this type of data analysis that technology allows is proving essential for ensuring resources aren’t wasted.

Navigating new usage

At Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in South London, the education department had been investing in digital systems long before the pandemic started. Its main motivation was to ensure services weren’t disrupted due to staff working remotely, and the department had already started to explore the use of virtual meetings and video conferencing to assist with other areas of their work.

As the pandemic picked up momentum, many of the conference rooms at both of the Trust’s main hospital sites were being redeployed for other purposes. These included Covid-19 command centres and office space for staff teams who were previously located on wards. At the same time, many non-clinical employees, including members of the Workforce and Education directorate, were redeployed to projects that gave additional support to the wellbeing of clinical colleagues as they dealt with the growing number of Covid-19 patients.

The department couldn’t have predicted the changes that were to take place during 2020, but with its use of a central room booking system and other digital resources, it was able to navigate through an unpredictable time. Previously, the IT software it used to schedule rooms and resources was hosted on-site, but an upgrade moved the solution to cloud-based servers, boosting its efficiency and flexibility.

It’s impossible to speculate exactly how the high-profile NHS mergers and roll out of the backlog delivery plan will affect education centres across the UK, but it’s clear that training staff is set to become more important in workforce recruitment and retention. These two examples are just a small snapshot of the innovations I’ve seen across numerous education departments - with some simple technological switches, they’re well placed to cope with the changing nature of medical education, and the huge responsibilities the department looks set to face.

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