Interview Dr Anas Nader, NHS Doctor and Co-Founder of Patchwork Health

Patchwork Health’s mission is to bring meaningful flexible working to the NHS. We do this by empowering healthcare staff to work on their terms, whilst delivering cost and efficiency savings to the NHS.

Currently, when clinicians are looking for flexible NHS shifts and hospitals are in need of staff, they turn to locum agencies to find and fill roles. But this process is admin-laden and costs the NHS over £5bn every year. Patchwork offers an alternative. We work with NHS hospitals to create digital ‘staff banks’. This creates a pool of qualified staff who can step in when the hospital needs extra doctors or nurses. Managers use the platform to broadcast upcoming available shifts, and clinicians self-select their preferred hours and location using an app.

By using a digital staff bank, hospitals can reduce their reliance on expensive recruitment agencies, save huge amount of time otherwise spent on admin, and ensure that their wards are always safely staffed

Doctors, nurses and support staff who register with their hospital’s digital staff bank are given control over their shift schedules. They can also use Patchwork to ‘passport’ their qualifications and credentials between different hospitals and keep track of their wages. These are radical steps forward for the NHS and offer a huge amount of empowerment to staff for the first time.

Patchwork Health

How did you come up with the idea for the company?

Myself and my co-founder, Dr Jing Ouyang, both experienced the pressures and stress of working as junior doctors in the NHS. Staff were burning out. We knew that introducing greater flexibility could stem the tide of talented clinicians leaving the profession in search of better work-life balance, but we weren’t sure how it could be done.

But it was these personal experiences of being doctors, alongside a Clinical Innovation Fellowship role I’d undertaken for Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Trust looking at making temporary staffing processes more efficient, that led to the lightbulb moment. The NHS was facing a vicious cycle; pressure on staff was causing them to quit, which pushed the NHS into spending more money on locum agencies, which left no money to invest in long-term staffing needs, which compounded the pressures. After a lot of research, Jing and I decided that a tech-led solution could solve the twin problems of clinician burnout and inefficient NHS staffing.

Now, Patchwork works with NHS hospitals across the UK. We provide an answer for clinicians looking to achieve better work-life balance, whilst also helping NHS organisations save money, free up administrative time and improve patient safety.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

I firmly believe that successful entrepreneurship is about solving real world problems in partnership with your customer. If you have lived experience of the problem you are trying to solve, you’ll be a better, more empathetic entrepreneur who can connect authentically with your customer base. So before you jump into anything, take time to truly understand the problem from all angles. The fact that I was an NHS doctor and have lived the pressures of healthcare staffing first-hand, means I can have honest conversations with Patchwork users and NHS partners about their challenges. And our customers know that supporting the NHS is my foremost motivation.

My other piece of advice is to build a great team around you. True innovation isn’t about egos, it’s about surrounding yourself with and learning from brilliant people. At Patchwork we are constantly seeking to collaborate with others and grow a team that’s excited about making a difference. Recognising where your talents end and another’s begin is an essential lesson for any entrepreneur.

What can we hope to see from Patchwork Health in the future?

We believe there’s a huge amount that bespoke technology can do to improve the efficiency of NHS systems and this has only become more important over the last 6 months. The NHS will need as much support as possible to recover from the pressures of the pandemic, so we’re constantly looking at news ways in which Patchwork can help NHS staff and the workforce systems that power our hospitals.

At the moment, we’re working on connecting multiple hospitals through ‘collaborative’ digital staff banks. This will help hospitals pool available staff, with our technology then making sure they can be onboarded swiftly by digitally ‘passporting’ their credentials. This work will ensure hospitals under significant pressures (like we saw during the first wave of the pandemic) can get the staff they need quickly. This will be a major focus for us over the coming months.

We want to bring flexible working to every hospital in the UK and ensure all healthcare workers can achieve the work-life balance they’re looking for. And we want to do this whilst protecting the long-term financial health of the NHS; preserving the life-saving role it plays in all our lives.

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