Insights | 27.05.2020

Supporting the NHS through crisis: behind the scenes at Patchwork Health

Supporting the NHS through crisis: behind the scenes at Patchwork Health

In January we backed Patchwork, a rapidly growing healthtech start-up on a mission to solve the NHS staffing crisis and bring flexible working to thousands of clinicians, in a £3m investment round.

We caught up with Dr Anas Nader, CEO and co-founder, on the extraordinary ways they’re helping to strengthen the NHS in challenging times, and how our support is helping.

What’s the story behind Patchwork Health?

At Patchwork Health we’re on a mission to solve the global healthcare staffing crisis by introducing flexible working across the sector. Our business was founded by doctors and former hospital managers, and was built in partnership with the NHS.

We know there is a rise in the number of staff leaving the NHS in search of a better work-life balance and today every one in eight posts stands vacant. If nothing is done, the number of vacant posts could rise to one in four within a decade. These staffing black holes have a huge impact on patient care provision, and force the NHS to turn to expensive recruitment agencies for temporary staff in order to cover the empty shifts. This costs the NHS an estimated £5bn every year, which is just staggering.

“Today every one in eight posts stands vacant. If nothing is done, the number of vacant posts could rise to one in four within a decade.”

As healthcare workers, we have all experienced staffing challenges and lack of flexibility first hand, and this drove us to found Patchwork Health.

We started by building an app which directly connects hospitals with available clinicians to fill vacant NHS shifts. Without the need for expensive recruitment agencies, we’re now helping to fill hundreds of thousands of shifts more efficiently and at a lower cost, and also empowering clinicians to work when and how they choose. This provides flexibility to reduce the overwhelming number of staff leaving our health service for good.

How does the business operate?

Patchwork Health provides best-in-class tech, combined with an advisory service. The app directly connects thousands of clinicians with vacant shifts in hospitals. Hospital managers then manage this process end-to-end using a web-based portal, alongside an in-depth data analytics platform that gives them oversight of vital data such as actual and forecasted staffing spend, ward cover issues and budget targets.

Before we implement any technology, our team brings their in-depth experience of the sector and works closely with hospital managers to help identify their unique challenges and goals, streamlining their processes and automating tasks in order to improve efficiency. Once the technology is in place, we then provide ongoing support such as bespoke data analysis reports to ensure our tech is working hard, which allows hospitals to provide the utmost safety for their patients.

Supporting the NHS during COVID-19

How are you supporting the NHS during the current crisis?

Patchwork Health has a hugely important role to play in the current crisis. NHS Trusts can use our platform to advertise and fill vacancies in a matter of days, enabling the rapid recruitment and deployment of trained healthcare workers across the UK. Staff mobility is now even more essential, owing to high levels of absence or self-isolation, and there is a shifting demand for specialists as the disease flares up in particular hotspots.

We’ve been working with some of the UK’s largest NHS Trusts to create the official ‘London COVID-19 Staff Bank’. Hospitals all over London have come together to share clinician availability via the Patchwork app, and these London NHS Trusts have been able to reach thousands of clinicians to safely staff their wards.

In addition to this, we’ve partnered with ShieldNHS to donate thousands of protective face shields to frontline NHS workers – so we can play our part to help combat the well-publicised PPE shortages. The Archbishop of Canterbury, London Fire Brigade and Salvation Army have all been helping assemble the shields and deliver them to hospitals, and this has been a fantastic team effort.

“Hospitals all over London have come together to share clinician availability via the Patchwork app, and these London NHS Trusts have been able to reach thousands of clinicians to safely staff their wards.”

We’ve also supported the NHS through by creating a London-wide ‘COVID-19 Intensive Care Patient Transfer System’. When patients are transferred between different intensive care units, they need to be accompanied by specialist workers. Until Patchwork Health, this work had been done by volunteers, all managed sporadically via a spreadsheet and Doodle Poll. Now, volunteers are official paid workers, booking vacant shifts seamlessly through the platform.

What’s the story about how you changed business model, when did you start switching focus and how quick were the changes?

As soon as the threat of COVID-19 emerged at the start of the year we began making preparations to adapt our business model.

The major changes we pushed through included coming together with complementary healthtech startups in order to reduce the burden on the NHS administrative systems. We enlisted the support of Medics.Academy, which provides training to help newly-qualified doctors and recent retirees join the frontline, and we started working with Wagestream, an app that allows clinicians to access their wages as soon as they need them.

We then focused on rolling out our technology to as many NHS Trusts as possible, and the uptake has been phenomenal. More than 3,500 COVID-19 related vacancies have been going live on our recruitment platform each week over the last month, and the Patchwork team has seen a 100 percent daily increase in clinicians taking up shifts through the app.

What has the current climate taught you about your business model?

Our belief that a business’s strength depends upon the skill and diversity of its team has been reinforced. At Patchwork Health we are proud to have built – and be growing – a dynamic, ambitious team dedicated to achieving a common goal.

I’ve also learnt that collaboration is also key. True innovation comes from working with others, both in your organisation and outside it, and sharing knowledge, rather than constantly seeking to outcompete one another.

Why is technology vital in supporting healthcare?

It’s widely accepted that saving money, resources and time is important for any healthcare service, and technology can deliver all of those outcomes if applied in the right way.

We’ve seen how the importance of healthtech has been thrown into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, with healthcare providers and governments across the world relying on technology to track the disease, treat sufferers, and share crucial data.

In the UK, the NHS is increasingly reliant on app and cloud-based technology to ensure that patients are kept safe. Having said this, tech shouldn’t be adopted without thorough evaluation and prior-research.

Seeking the right partner

What were you looking for in an investment partner, and what made you choose to partner with the team at Praetura Ventures?

First and foremost, we were looking for an investment partner who shared our vision to revolutionise healthcare staffing provision.

We also wanted an experienced partner with a proven track record of success – a team that would help us to develop as an organisation, and support us as we pursue our goals and ambitions over the coming years.

Praetura Ventures’ commitment to providing ‘more than money’ really resonated with us. We respect the team’s focus on investing in and supporting ambitious people, and we felt confident in their ability to guide Patchwork through this crucial period of growth.

“Praetura Ventures’ commitment to providing ‘more than money’ really resonated with us.”

The team also has significant experience in partnering with other healthtech startups, including Inotec AMD and Dr Fertility, so we knew that they would have a strong network and the levels of expertise we were looking for.

We’re very happy with our partnership with Praetura, and we are excited about achieving further success together in years to come.

How has Praetura Ventures’ support and funding helped in the current crisis?

Thanks to Praetura Ventures’ investment we have been able to respond to all NHS Trusts that have requested our help with COVID-19 recruitment.

We have also had the vital capacity to ensure a rapid roll-out of the technology and induction in its use for all of the hospitals who have signed up, whilst expanding the reach of our recruitment tools to every corner of the country. This has enabled significant savings and efficiencies for the NHS at a crucial moment in our national history, and has undoubtedly played a part in saving lives up and down the UK.

Healthtech and the future

Where do you see Patchwork after the immediate priority has passed, and in five years from now?

It is always our goal to welcome more hospitals to the Patchwork platform, and after the pandemic has passed we will continue to grow the numbers of partner Trusts using our staffing solution.

In five years time, we’d like to see healthcare providers embracing the new opportunities which technology can offer them in terms of financial savings and improved patient outcomes – a goal which our team is working to achieve every single day.

How could COVID-19 change the relationship between healthcare and tech?

We will see more healthcare providers proactively seeking out the best new tech in anticipation of any future challenges. The standards for safety and privacy are also going to be set even higher, with no room for failure.

There’s going to be an increasing understanding that technology can significantly improve the internal processes within organisations, and that just because big companies and organisations have been doing things in a certain way for years doesn’t mean these processes are beyond scrutiny and critique.

Moving forward I’d expect to see a lot more health tech dedicated to making internal systems more efficient, which will have a previously underestimated impact on patient outcomes.