Trusts testing technology to make bank shifts more attractive than agency work

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The pilot, funded by the Department for Health and Social Care, will see NHS organisations try out a range of IT solutions designed to make booking and getting paid for bank shifts easier and quicker.

In many cases, it will mean nurses using apps on their mobile phones to book shifts and get instant alerts when shifts become available.

At some trusts, payments for shifts will be offered on a weekly or even daily basis and staff will have the option to “opt out” of NHS pension arrangements to get a higher rate of pay for extra shifts.

Such developments will offer greater flexibility to nurses, midwives and others and make it easier to fit extra work around family commitments and caring responsibilities, say those behind the scheme.Meanwhile, it is hoped the new systems will encourage nurses who might have otherwise sought agency work to do bank shifts instead, helping hospitals reduce spending on agency staff.

The trial comes on the back of a commitment made by health and care secretary Jeremy Hunt last year to support flexible working and help NHS staff achieve a better work-life balance.

The scheme will be evaluated with the most successful elements set to be rolled out across the health service, said the department.

A spokeswoman told Nursing Times that the department was providing new funding, totalling £517,000, for the initiative, which would be divided between the sites to deliver the pilots.

She added that no single technology company was involved. Instead, all the trusts had been given the funding to develop their own apps, so “it’s their decision as to what providers they use”, she said.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is among those taking part and will be testing a dedicated mobile app designed to give staff a clear overview of what shifts are available and a fast and simple way to book them.

The app will also trial daily pay so staff will be remunerated immediately for the hours they work, plus an option to “opt in” or “opt out” of pension payment for each shift.

The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust will also be developing quicker payment for staff and reviewing its existing web-based app that provides information about bank shifts.

“We are thrilled to be chosen as one of first pilot trusts working to improve the way we engage with temporary staff and encourage people to join our bank,” said Dudley Group chief executive Diane Wake.

“Recruitment and retention of our staff is a top priority for us to enable us to have a stable workforce delivering first class patient care,” she said.

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is hoping new shift-booking systems and speedy payment will prove popular with nurses.

“Through the use of a mobile app, staff will be able to select and book shifts direct and receive payment much more quickly,” said interim director of workforce and organisational development Mark Power.

“Real-time shift booking and ‘on-the-go’ payment is an exciting development and should prove of great benefit to everyone,” he said.

Some apps, like the one being trialled at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, will analyse data from trust systems to plan for anticipated spikes in demand and immediately send notifications to bank staff to help ensure shifts are filled.

Health minister Stephen Barclay described the trial as a “win-win” for all.

He said: “A modern NHS needs modern ways of working – and that means using the latest technology to give our dedicated staff more of a choice over how, when and where they want to work.

“We want to make sure they have the right work/life balance if they work extra shifts,” he said.

“This innovative trial is a win-win for everyone – it helps staff provide more consistent care for patients and gives them the flexibility they want in choosing their working patterns,” he said.

“It will also help the NHS reduce its reliance on expensive agency staff,” said Mr Barclay.