When the magnitude of COVID-19 became clear, like many other organizations in the healthcare space, we knew we needed to step up and support our community. As a vital care provider, Newcross Healthcare connects skilled healthcare professionals with clients experiencing staffing issues, as well as vulnerable individuals in need of care in the home. COVID-19 was going to test our ability to evaluate, plan and respond.
To support our temporary staffing solutions, we invest in our own custom-built technology solutions such as HealthForceGo, which is a platform designed to help clients and employees manage their healthcare shifts. It is a combination of these, and third-party cloud systems, that helped us ramp up our processes to support the national need, provide healthcare professionals where they are most needed, and weather the resourcing storm induced by the pandemic.
An existing cloud foundation
The first step was to immediately assess our current processes and see what we could improve quickly to address the increase in demand and ensure we are keeping our staff and clients, including care homes and prisons across the UK, safe.
From an operational perspective, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony is one of the most important, though often understated, investments that any business can make. At Newcross, we have made use of VoIP calls for over 6 years because it offers true scalability and allows us to seamlessly route calls between our branches across the UK. It offers security with encrypted, recorded calls. Fortunately, we were already flexible in our setup and able to route calls coming into our offices to our remote-working staff. We also set up our staff with VICIDial soft phones, configured to their laptops, to offer our clients 24/7 access to our services. Because of this, there is no real need for our staff to work in the office at all during the pandemic - we can continue operations from home, until it is safe to return.
Our finance team is also fully equipped for remote working using our cloud-based financial software suite. COVID-19 has caused businesses across all sectors to reforecast growth plans and budgets due to extreme market changes. The Oracle NetSuite system has enabled us to keep track of the costs incurred by the pandemic through supplier payment analysis. For example, our ‘Stay Safe' panel, who met daily to discuss strategies and source PPE, had a detailed oversight of costs incurred from the pandemic, allowing us to accurately predict our cash flow needs at a critical time. We have also been able to closely analyse our financial performance and reforecast and re-budget for the year ahead.
With demand for Newcross services heightened, and to quickly and safely recruit healthcare assistants, support workers and nurses, we needed to ensure our recruitment process was agile, virtual, and able to deliver the right training, information and support. Given the need to handle a greater quantity of applications, we also needed to automate our process where possible, while enabling our teams to operate remotely. We also saw the opportunity to use remote access in the cloud to add speed. All this meant we needed to fast track some enhancements.
Our recruitment team streamlined our onboarding process, which originally took around 30 days, to just 48-hours from application to first shift. Whilst our original process required applicants to attend an interview and collect their ID card and uniform from their local branch, the new process can be completed safely at their home:
- On our online application form, applicants are asked up-front for their uniform size and a high-quality headshot for a photo ID card. This information is securely stored in our data centre.
- Following a successful screening process and Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) and Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks, the applicant is invited to an interview with the manager of their local branch to test their clinical knowledge and aptitude for the role, conducted on the cloud-based video conferencing platform, Whereby.
- If an applicant is successful, our bespoke application programming interface (API) feeds this information to third parties to provide the photo ID card and uniforms, and then later to pass this order on to DPD for delivery.
- A photo ID card and uniforms are sent to all successful applicants prior to their first shift, with a next-day service.
With our development team having already created HealthForceGo, we were well-placed to quickly and efficiently streamline these changes. Healthcare staff have a digital profile to pick up shifts, with clients able to authorise timesheets and book shifts. This fully agile and virtual recruitment process was rolled-out within the first week of lockdown. Our new recruitment process has revolutionised the way that we work and allowed us to process over 2000 applications per week during lockdown.
However, as Hamish Irving, our Head of Product notes, the changes to the recruitment process were not without challenges:
With any project like this, the main challenge is to prioritise what is going to have the biggest impact and get us to the end result, then finetune it later. We are now revisiting some areas we decided not to address at the time, to make further enhancements. For example, changing the application form to only accept portrait images of staff, to ensure the best reproduction of photo ID badges. Additionally, we automated checks that were once manual to ensure that the photo and uniform size were entered prior to a member of staff becoming active on our system.
Training and booking healthcare staff - via the cloud
As part of our mission to provide our clients with unrivalled access to quality healthcare staff, we provide specialist training through our cloud-based eLearning system, powered by Docebo. Through this platform, we have a comprehensive range of over 400 training courses, in addition to sessions run by our clinical trainers.
To supplement this for COVID-19, our Learning Innovation team developed bespoke training to ensure all staff had working knowledge of virus defense and control protocols. Specialist COVID-19 modules were added, covering donning and doffing PPE and oxygen therapy, in preparation for an escalating pandemic. Within the first few weeks of the UK's coronavirus pandemic, we had issued a global roll-out of this training. As a result, we're proud to say that our complex care service, which involves caring for individuals with complex healthcare needs within their own home, has remained free of coronavirus.
As COVID-19 pushed us, along with other healthcare providers, into the unknown, we also fast-tracked our plans to automate the staff bookings process. Thanks to our internal tech team, who worked overtime to make it happen, we released an instant booking feature so clients could opt-in to use and receive instant verification of their booking. This offers peace of mind to our clients that their staff requirements have been fulfilled immediately. To ensure a speedy response for our clients, we developed a queuing system to prevent any bottlenecks that could be caused by an influx of requests and to handle multiple actions that simultaneously occurred with each request. For example, a booking request will send a booking to the branch, a confirmation to the booked carer and a confirmation to the client.
Cloud services - both existing and new - have been instrumental in supporting our transition to fully virtual operations and, through integration with our existing systems, provide the best possible service to our clients throughout COVID-19 and for the future. Whilst the pandemic has delivered real challenges, our team has created workable solutions. These new ways of working have also made a positive impact on our overall services, leaving us in a better competitive position as we move forward.