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Why Connecting the NHS Is More Important Than Ever—And How Technology Can Help

Written by Grainne Elliott, CMO, Thrive

Mental and physical fatigue, lack of support, tricky staff logistics and shift patterns, not to mention long hours—these are just some of the challenges that NHS employees face. After a really rough year (and we’re not completely in the clear just yet), connecting NHS employees is more important than ever.

1948 was the birth year of the NHS, a historic development that brought healthcare to all in the UK. Back then—a near half-century before the digital age—all things were done with paper. Today, the NHS is in the early stages of digital transformation.

These plans and efforts to digitise are much needed in a system that, while it has seen significant progress, has much more progress still to make when it comes to connecting information and people.

For the patient, that lack of connection and technological innovation within the NHS can sometimes be a frustrating experience full of administrative hurdles, delays between appointments, and long waiting lists for tests and procedures.

For staff, the inability to connect is but one frustration of many, but it holds the key to groundbreaking changes in all the other areas of frustration. Because society’s ability to connect has come so far since the NHS’s early days, and because connection is such a crucial aspect of patient care and provider well-being, technology that connects people—from administration to GPs to nurses—is an urgent part of advancing the NHS’s technology policy and implementation.

Why Connection Matters Right Now in the NHS

Why should it matter that the NHS is connected? Because staff connection is linked to everything from patient outcomes to productivity and profits.

As one NHS director put it, “If people feel happier at work then this is linked to productivity. They will pay more attention to their tasks in their jobs, which trickles down into patient outcomes: patients are happier, they go home earlier and they are happier with the care they are given.”

Many measures of staff satisfaction have improved. The most recent NHS Staff Survey conducted late in the pandemic found that staff in general are proud to work for the NHS. On the other hand, two important metrics had declined. Results showed that:

  • Team working had declined.
  • Well-being scores were lower for those who worked on a COVID-19 ward or area.
  • Well-being scores were also much lower for those who have been shielding.

The decline in these three areas specifically show a need for more robust opportunities to connect, and in this time of all things digital, a digital- and mobile-first approach could be the answer those in the NHS need to increase those key touchpoints.

Creating Connections with technology

One way to facilitate much-needed connections via technology is through the use of employee communications technology. In thinking about the requirements an app or other new technology must fill, here are a few guidelines:

  • New technology must be inclusive
  • Stakeholders from a variety of areas and levels need to be included in selecting and rolling out new technology intended for engagement and connection—not just CEOs and members of the executive group.

When selecting an employee communications technology platform, it’s also a good idea to account for diversity and health inequalities. Make sure no one is forgotten—that defeats the point of making sure people in every role feel valued.

Set everyone up for success with proper training.

It’s critical that everyone receives in-depth training in how to leverage your new technology tools. Digital literacy doesn’t come naturally, so support all staff in the effort by training, and even appointing training leaders to educate groups on how to use it.

Only when people feel fluent will they recognise the efficiency and time-saving the new technology affords them.

  • Help people find each other and share with each other.
  • Connection can’t happen if people don’t know how to get in touch. Technology can bring people together in both logistical and social ways. For example, people directories and shared rotas make managing or swapping shifts easier. Likewise for making teamwork (one of the pain points made clear in this year’s survey) more viable.
  • Consider incorporating features such as social walls for posting photos and fun messages, or for sharing everything from canteen menus to big departmental accomplishments.
    Think holistically about support.
    What needs do staff members at all levels have with regards to support? Certainly they need to hear from upper management, and can feel supported in their roles when it’s easy to find resources (such as company policies or training modules) they need.

But other types of support, particularly around physical, mental, and emotional well-being, have grown ever more important as we wade through the COVID-19 crisis. Technology can help bridge the gap left by not being able to be within close proximity to colleagues, and can provide much-needed support via planning of well-being events and offering mental health resources.

With the right technology in pace, NHS staff members at all levels can forge new connections, work more efficiently with one another, and feel more supported.