Solving the problem of rostering flexible healthcare workers with an app at Blackpool NHS Trust

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood May 23, 2019
Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust says temporary nursing staff really like being able to organise their work 24x7 from their smartphones

Image of a doctor with an iPad

One NHS leader that says it’s found a way to do just that via technology is Natalie Hill - the e-Rostering and Temporary Workforce Manager at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which provides a range of acute hospital services to the 330,000 population of the West Lancashire Fylde coast health economy, as well as the estimated 11 million annual visitors to the seaside town itself.

To do that, it has more than 7,000 full-time staff which are in turn supported by 900 temporary - or, in Blackpool NHS-specific jargon, ‘bank’ staff. These are workers on zero-hours contracts who want to both fit a shift around their other work or family needs, or who want to secure as many hours as they can to help with their monthly pay, she explains.

Helping them do that and get the right number of staff at work at any particular time is the function run by Hill and the rest of her team in the Trust’s Directorate of Workforce & Organisational Development. All this was working relatively fine with those existing manual and regular office hour time processes, she says, until recently:

Our ‘bank’ office here was finding that as the temporary workforce grew in number, so did the queries from staff regarding shift availability, rosters, and annual leave. And as we’re only open Monday to Friday. 9am to 5pm, staff were also restricted to managing their rotas during those times.

We wanted to be able to relieve pressure from the e-Rostering team, and also offer more flexibility to the different work groups when it came to booking their shifts.

Like the rest of the NHS, Blackpool has long used technology to help manage scheduling, in the shape of so-say electronic (e) Rostering solutions - so it made sense to see if this resource could provide a solution to this latest challenge: Blackpool was using software that didn’t offer mobile access to rosters, which was a big gap.

Hill says she closed that gap, and by working with a supplier called Allocate, has found a mobile and easily accessible way to do it, too.

We wanted to offer staff mobile access to rosters - that was the main driving factor behind the implementation of this solution. We wanted to launch the capability for bank staff to directly book their own shifts, and we knew that being able to book them on their phone or tablet from anywhere would make this even easier.

We were already using this vendor’s Employee Online software and the two elements work together, so it made sense to launch them at the same time.

The specific app Blackpool’s using is called ‘Allocate Me,’ which offers a way to view their roster in the past, present and as far into the future as they’ve been published - including details of their annual leave, enhanced hours, training days, skills and certificates, even all the way to their pay records before they receive their paper payslips from payroll. It also allows users to request duties and time off in the future, submit their timesheets online, and log their bank availability - making it easier for NHS staff like Hill’s to only work the shifts that suit them, and book this time outside normal office hours.

‘They can also see when and where they’re working’

Strong claim - but the good news, for the Trust and these important flexible workers - is that it’s worked. The software was implemented in February 2018, with the e-Rostering team initially supporting staff through drop-in sessions to help anyone having trouble logging on: Hill stresses that any big change to nurse working patterns this had to be introduced correctly, to avoid any possible disruption to patients, so a testing period of different direct booking scenarios was tested, like seeing if staff could book onto shifts for which they were not qualified. As a result, there’s a safety check whereby a ‘required grade’ field must always be correctly filled, she points out.

In any case, response has been enthusiastic:

It is adding significant value to us. We’ve seen a significant uptake of both the Me app and the direct booking function: there were 300 logins and 200 shifts booked in the first week - and by May, nearly 1,500 shifts were being booked per week. Nearly one year on, both usage and shift fill rate are continuing to rise.

We believe the successful uptake of the Me app is down to the benefits for staff; it was a positive transition because it has made lives easier for our staff. We didn’t force the Me app on them – we kept the main software active so that they had a choice, but we have found that the majority of staff would rather use Me because they can get it on their phones and tablets.

Now, if nurses want to sit down in the evenings or at the weekend and book shifts, they can. They can also see when and where they’re working, book annual leave…  they have more ownership. I think that’s why it has been so well received.

Indeed, so successful has been using an app to book work at the hospital that non-nursing colleagues are jumping on the bandwagon:

In addition to nursing, more staff groups are using the mobile app - it’s great to see our Allied Health Professionals, admin and specialist nursing staff joining in. Plus, the app is not only helping to fill shifts, even as far ahead as 6 to 8 weeks, it is assisting with expanding the ‘bench register’ at our Trust, as both temp and even our substantive workers love the flexible approach.

But of course - this also has to be about improved patient care, too. On that front, Hill told us,

It’s also been positive from a patient point of view, we’re filling the shifts quicker so staffing the wards a lot quicker and we always have the right team there - and from my staff’s perspective, they have a lot less day-to-say pressure and can direct their attention to other responsibilities.

Going forward, Hill says she’d like to see both more functionality on the app in terms of help for other Blackpool staff beyond just nursing - and more downloads