How Primary Care Networks can use technology to support patients during the vaccine roll-out

Healthcare worker delivering care to elderly patient

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) across England are currently grappling with a litany of pressures. Namely: the operational complexities of a national vaccine roll-out which is happening at breakneck speed, and the ongoing imperative to support the wider healthcare needs of patients, despite ongoing restrictions. Throughout the last year, primary care has valiantly battled to keep care flowing to patients. Now, with the added time and capacity pressures brought about by the vaccine, a fresh burst of ingenuity and creativity is needed to ensure local communities can access the services they need. How, then, can technology ease these short-term pressures whilst creating structures that will retain value in the long-term?

The challenge is something NHS England has recognised. Their recently announced ‘Framework for Digital Solutions’ offers each primary care system £120k in additional funding to support the clinical capacity needs created by the COVID-19 response, vaccination rollouts, and the implementation of the Primary Care Flexible Staff Pools. This funding (which must be claimed by 31st March) emphasises the necessary role digital innovation and technology needs to play if PCNs are to overcome the sheer scale of their current workload.

Administration of the vaccine taking up significant amounts of time and clinical resources, ensuring that day to day practice can continue, is an ongoing battle for most practices. Through technology, we can attempt to square this circle. For example, software can be used to ensure rostering and staff deployment is efficient and effective, and that recurring scheduling challenges are identified and headed off. It can also help facilitate the pooling of resources across a region, enabling temporary staff to move in line with demand. And it can make possible the digital consultations that are needed whilst physical appointments remain restricted.

These are solutions that our team at Patchwork have been working closely with PCNs to roll out. There physically isn’t enough time, nor enough staff members, to deliver on every front. Our software and services have been helping fill that essential void. Our primary care partners are able to tap into Patchwork’s pool of flexible workers who are available for in-person consultations. And virtual consultation shifts can also be broadcast via our new partnership with Push Doctor.

From the creation of GP Collaborative Staff Banks to support Liverpool’s vaccine drive, to setting-up and staffing COVID-19 hot clinics, we’ve been working to bring the power of technology to primary care providers fighting a huge range of capacity and workforce challenges.

Whilst the public are now looking forward to a gradual easing of restrictions, healthcare providers are facing many more months of COVID response and vaccine roll-out. We are far from the end of the road. We must therefore embrace every opportunity to make life easier, more efficient, and more flexible for the health and care staff who remain our best line of defence. And, when it comes to the community and primary care we all rely on, access to digital infrastructure will create a sustainable system that supports staff and patients alike.