As COVID-19 cases rise, digital passporting of information is critical

The acute impact of a pandemic on the NHS continues to be felt by all those working in and around healthcare. As our health service braces itself for a predicted influx in hospital admissions, demand on staffing and facilities is set to peak once more. As we saw in March and April, Trusts under pressure will need to recruit and redeploy clinicians at extremely short notice in order to ensure demand is met.

As we seek to implement the staffing lessons learned from the first wave and relieve the extreme burdens faced by our NHS teams, we must assess what worked well earlier this year and how we can proactively strengthen our healthcare defences.

From our experience of supporting Trusts across the UK with critical staffing needs during the pandemic, we know that the digitisation of compliance documents and accreditations can prove critical. This digitisation, alongside mechanisms that enable the information to be passported rapidly between Trusts, can help deliver the rapid redeployment of staff that such a fast moving crisis needs.

In this piece, we explore what digital passporting involves and the advantages for NHS employers, the role it played in the first wave of the pandemic, and what available technology Trusts can embrace in order to best prepare for the future.

First off, what is digital passporting?

Digital passporting refers to the digitisation of an NHS staff member’s qualifications, identity verification, credentials and employment history, helping streamline onboarding if they move between NHS Trusts or into new roles. It gives individuals the opportunity to digitise and take ownership of their essential documentation, which they can then share with new employers as necessary.

Whilst the concept of full digital passporting (sometimes known as e-passporting) is still in the nascent stages across the NHS, a range of new technologies are helping advance the digitisation of clinical credentials. At Patchwork, we are creating systems which automate this information exchange, underpinned by a legal framework agreed with the participating Trusts; helping reduce admin for recruitment teams and speeding up onboarding for staff as they move between roles or regions.

How did digitising critical information aid the COVID response?

While the NHS has ambitions to roll out digital passporting across the whole service in the coming years, we’re certainly not there yet. However, Patchwork has been working with Trusts to digitise clinical documentation and speed up the recruitment and onboarding processes.

For example, during the first wave of COVID-19, we worked with several NHS Trusts across London to create the ‘London ‘COVID Collaborative Staff Bank’ – an online pool of thousands of healthcare workers who could rapidly work across multiple sites thanks to the secure passporting and deployment system.

This speed in compliance checks was undoubtedly essential in user-hospitals’ successful response to the time-critical threat of coronavirus, when a staffing lag-time of several days could have had life-threatening consequences.

As a result, we are continuing to work with industry experts to build out and strengthen our digital credentialing and passporting capabilities, enabling us to help more healthcare employers with dynamic, responsive staffing solutions.

How does digital passporting benefit healthcare workers?

NHS workers with digitised documentation are empowered to take ownership of their personal employment information and accreditations. The process of taking on shifts at new sites is faster and more secure.

Looking ahead, as passporting becomes more commonplace, clinicians who move between sites frequently can have their transitions made considerably more convenient through digital passporting. Likewise, bank workers will be able to support with staffing needs across multiple sites without the added friction of frequent and often redundant compliance checks. Overall, a clinician can move freely between Trusts across a region or even nationally for efficient and timely deployment.

What about flexible working opportunities?

Digital passporting is an important step towards achieving the goals set out in the recent NHS People Plan: to make flexible working a ‘default’ for NHS employees, with personalised working patterns on offer from day one and normalised within workplace culture.

Our ambition is to make it easier for all healthcare professionals to work in a way that suits them, whilst at the same time ensuring every NHS ward is safely staffed. This means that they can self-select the shifts which suit their needs, rather than being restricted by the shift and rota patterns of just one hospital. This also allows staff to easily take on additional hours if desired, and to develop and enhance their career portfolio or CV.

To make this a reality, we must keep moving towards full digitisation and passporting of credentials across the whole NHS.

The advantages for Trusts

The central benefit of any form of digital passporting for Trusts is the ease and speed which it delivers to the staff onboarding process. This not only makes ward staffing easier to manage, but reduces the administrative burden which previously accompanied each substantive or temporary hire.

In addition, removing restrictive barriers within the NHS is the best possible way to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience across organisational boundaries; helping us to retain some of the spirit of collaboration which has sprung up during this year’s crisis.

With COVID cases now on the rise again, digitised credentials and all forms of passporting will enable affected hospitals to rapidly source and onboard the staff members they need – quickly and in confidence.

If you would like to learn more about joining Patchwork Health and benefit from our digital passporting capabilities, please get in touch by emailing