How MedTech innovations are easing the impact of understaffing

From the horse to the steam engine, and pen and paper to the computer – technology has always been able to increase the speed and reduce the manpower required to process and produce both information and physical goods.

The National Health Service, and indeed many other healthcare systems throughout the world, find themselves in structural and material peril. After years of underfunding, poor management, an aging population, and recently a pandemic, updates about the state of our healthcare seems to be a never-ending cycle of bad news; stress, anxiety, and ultimately, systematic failings.

This issue was brought sharply into focus after the Government required the NHS to reduce spending by £330 million, which will impact the adoption and deployment of new technologies, as reported here in the Health Service Journal.

The Great Resignation

One such issue impacting the sustainability of our healthcare system is understaffing. October’s NHS figures show that there are 39,000 vacancies for registered nurses in England, with one in ten nursing posts unfilled on acute wards in London and one in five nursing posts empty on mental health wards in the south-east. Of course, this has many causes, from a sudden lack of EU staff, to the surge in stress and anxiety felt by so many during the pandemic, to the longer-term issues of poor pay.

Today, it is another example of what economists call ‘The Great Resignation’. Millions are leaving their current job, role and career to seek out new ventures and horizons only made visible after years of lockdowns, furlough, and stimulus funding – and NHS staff are no different.

recent survey of UK doctors by the British Medical Association found that half of those who responded plan to work fewer hours, with a further 21% considering leaving the NHS completely. The number of doctors planning to take early retirement is also on the rise.

Although the Great Resignation is sector-agnostic problem, affecting most modern economies and most industries, the longstanding issues so present in healthcare systems throughout the world, as well as their importance to our livelihoods, converge to create a new and added urgency.

Tech isn’t the cure, but it will help

As leaders in the NHS or even apparently the Government lack the political or economic will to make more institutional and structural improvements – health leaders are turning to technological innovations to help ease the overbearing pressures. Data and new ways to process it all may hold the key to distributing resources more wisely.

One such technology is a tool developed by AI-firm Faculty. Deployed by the NHS on Monday 28th March, it will predict and forecast A&E admissions to help solve the ever-lengthening backlog – particularly of elective procedures. By knowing who is expected when, and where, staff should be able to be deployed more efficiently and effectively – minimising the impact of understaffing.

Chris Moran, national strategic incident director, NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “This leading technology has been developed to support hospitals by alerting them of potential upcoming surges in A&E admissions, and this will support decision-making and flexible use of resources and capacity, meaning the NHS will be in a better position to prepare for surges in demand.”

Some complex needs have simple answers

This is an example of a genius technology being utilised at the cutting edge of innovation – but to streamline operations to their fullest, it doesn’t necessarily require state-of-the-art stuff; there are many less ‘sci-fi’ technologies that can be used to address understaffing.

The Internet of Things is already used in many industries, and even in many household goods. In the context of managing healthcare facilities, a very time and labour-intensive task, it can maximise staff time and therefore overall efficiency of operations.

Pair sensors that can measure anything from temperature to how many times a door has been opened, to an IoT network, and you have a constant source of accurate, real-time data. When underpinned by adaptive software, such as mpro5, which harvests, unifies, and makes accessible all this information, you can know exactly what needs to be done when, and where. This is exactly what happened when Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust chose mpro5 to manage all its 110 buildings.

For example, if a hallway door on a certain door opens enough times, you know people have been there and that it may need a clean – and therefore that staff should spend their time doing just that. Alternatively, react to out-of-date schedules and you may find staff taking time out their day to see to a floor that no one has visited. From this, more accurate predictions of the future can be made.

From seemingly simple streamlining of everyday tasks, such as cleaning rotas, to the implementation of revolutionary artificial intelligence, it is hoped the NHS can operate more effectively when understaffed by using new technologies. There is no doubt that it will certainly help react and plan staff time more effectively, however, there is little technology can do to tackle such endemic, structural issues.