2020 has been a year of firsts: how can we take those lessons forward?

COVID-19 has sparked unprecedented cooperation in the healthcare sector: how can we take those lessons forward?

2020 has been a year of firsts: new frontiers, challenges, and opportunities. 2020 has also proven that when a disparate but motivated community of healthcare innovators come together to tackle a common goal, incredible things can be achieved.

The time-critical nature of the COVID-19 threat created an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to problem solving within the health and social care sector. Quite simply, there were problems to be solved, and anyone who could offer a feasible solution was offered a seat at the table.

In the UK and further afield, startups, SMEs and multinational companies shared research and information freely so that they could advance collective progress. Here at Patchwork, we saw previously ‘impossible’ goals rapidly realised as a new joined-up ecosystem was forged.

Now that we’re over six months on from the start of the pandemic, and gearing up for a second wave, it’s time to reflect on what this cooperation has achieved so far and to consider how we can preserve the spirit of collaboration as the initial surge of activity subsides.

Learning from success

The search for a coronavirus vaccine is currently a top global priority, and also an example of recent productive and extensive collaboration in the healthcare sector. Although vaccines typically take years of development and testing before they are rolled out to the public, in Oxford a vaccine has been created in just months and is currently undergoing human trials. This incredible feat is the product of a collaboration between Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, the Oxford Vaccine Group, the university’s spin off company Vaccitech, and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. The partners have agreed to operate on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, with only the costs of production and distribution being covered.

This is one prominent instance of successful cooperation, but many smaller scale examples also abound. From new instant messaging technology delivered to doctors on ICU wards to remote monitoring tools shared with community healthcare practitioners, almost every clinician can recount an innovation which has sprung from COVID collaborations.

Moving beyond competition

The old mantra, that competition between actors in the healthcare space is necessary in order to drive progress and improvement, has now been displaced from dominance. When organisations and innovators are pitted against each other to secure limited funding and contracts, secrecy and hostility are inevitable consequences – neither of which are conducive to long-term progress.

Imagine what could be achieved if, instead of NHS managers being bombarded with an array of suggestions and competing solutions to single issues, providers came together to ‘bundle’ their creations into a complete package which would solve a complex problem in its entirety? The pandemic gave us a taste of what this could mean for our collective ambition of building a stronger NHS. This enforced reminder that we’re all on the same time was a fantastically productive reset for the whole healthcare sector.

Embedding collaboration for good

These lessons of collaboration are something we’ve always embraced at Patchwork. We recognised from day one that integration, interoperability, and teamwork are cornerstones of impactful change. And the last 6 months have only deepened this commitment.

As part of our ongoing drive to bring best-in-industry tech solutions to NHS Trusts, Patchwork now operates in partnership with leading workforce solutions, rostering systems and vendor management suppliers. These collaborations were motivated by our mission to support hospitals with their frontline staffing in a way that streamlined admin and reduced bureaucracy, rather than adding layers of complexity.

During the first virus peak, our systems worked in harmony with NHS operations to fill thousands of urgent vacancies whilst streamlining processes and cutting administrative burden. We’ll be carrying forward these partnerships and forging new ones so that healthcare workers can continue to be empowered and any future peaks in demand can be safely and efficiently staffed.

A second collaborative relationship which has demonstrated its efficacy is between Patchwork and leading fintech company Wagestream. The Wagestream technology seamlessly integrates with the Patchwork shift-booking platform to provide clinicians with instant access to their earned wages. This feature is invaluable to Patchwork’s network of healthcare workers, many of whom work across different hospitals over short time frames.

Breaking down geographic boundaries

During the pandemic’s first wave, localised outbreaks put immense pressure on individual hospitals, highlighting the need to share a workforce beyond traditional organisational boundaries. Patchwork supported the need for fluid resourcing by established collaborative staff banks across London and the North West. These banks pooled staffing resources from across multiple NHS sites. They increased the number of clinicians who could be mobilised quickly without duplication in onboarding checks, thanks to the digital passporting of credentials and harmonising of payroll and other admin. This meant staff could get to where they were needed most, as quickly as possible, without creating a mountain of bureaucracy for management teams.

Actively working to create a brighter future for the NHS

The last 6 months have proved a brilliant testing ground, with solutions explored in live environments and those with lasting impact embedded for the long-term. Of course, not every partnership or new venture destined to last forever. But it’s important that we seize on the best outcomes and learn from those which didn’t work out. And it’s crucial that we maintain the new collaborative ethos which has been established – characterised by a readiness to recognise common goals and communicate without barriers. To achieve this we must consult with one another in order to design and set into stone appropriate and sustainable infrastructure.

We exist as part of the generation of healthcare innovators who are driving lasting and meaningful change, and it’s never been more important that we unite in the creation of a stronger, more resilient NHS.