Friday 1 March 2019 10:55 am

The NHS needs to act more like WeWork

A&E waiting times are at their worst level for 15 years.

In 2018, more junior doctors left the NHS than stayed. Doctors and nurses are facing untold pressures, with things set to get worse as European recruits dry up ahead of Brexit.

The health service is facing a critical staffing crisis which could prove fatal.

The solution? The NHS needs to start thinking like a startup.

I’m not talking beanbags in A&E or table tennis alongside MRI scanners, but instead applying the lessons pioneered by the rise of WeWork and other disruptors when it comes to how younger generations want to work.

The nature of how we work is changing. More people are prioritising work-life balance when seeking out new roles. Working from home and flexible hours are increasingly common traits. And the modern office, thanks to co-working and startup culture, has change beyond recognition.

However, if you work for the UK’s biggest employer, this new frontier of work will sound like an alien environment. The NHS employs 1.5m people, many of them on the frontline of care, and the strictures under which they work have not changed for decades.

Tough hours, rigid training routes, the inability to plan your life more than three months in advance – this is the reality of being an NHS clinician.

As the nature of work evolves, public sector employers cannot continue to bury their head in the sand.

While there has been a huge amount of hype surrounding hardware innovations and the introduction of digital routes to clinical advice, little attention has been paid to the steady exodus of staff who are hanging up their stethoscopes.

Unless the NHS evolves its rigid approach to the workforce, there will be no doctors left to treat patients, let along pioneer the creation of a digital health service.

Changing the culture about what it means to work in the NHS is long overdue. As their peers down tools at 4pm on Fridays or work remotely when they need to, British junior doctors are struggling through another week of night shifts or 12 hours on their feet in A&E.

While most doctors love what they do, many are simply burning out. Two thirds of doctors responding to a recent BMA survey said that their stress levels in the workplace had increased over the past 12 months.

Of those dropping out, many continue to work but for fewer hours by securing locum shifts through agencies. This practice is costing the NHS dearly. It spends over £3bn every year on temporary staffing.

It needn’t be this way. Introducing more flexible training schemes would help attract more talented clinicians into departments that are harder to staff. Allowing doctors and nurses to easily reduce or increase their hours will help ease pressures on those nearing burn-out.

And the NHS could save tens of millions if it made it easier for those leaving full-time work to continue to contribute to their hospitals, plugging dangerous staffing gaps without resorting to costly agencies.

As any startup will tell you, talent is the lifeblood of business. Chief executives spend untold hours scouting out the best recruits. Office dogs, beer on tap, and share options are all dangled in front of bright young graduates looking to make their mark on the world.

And the workforce today has rejected the chained-to-your-desk, nine-to-five culture of yesteryear.

If vital public services like the NHS don’t up their game and start offering what the modern-day workforce is looking for, we’ll be dealing with something much more serious than a recruitment headache. And there’ll be no one available to find the cure.


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