Two pioneering NHS Foundation Trusts in Surrey are making savings by pooling staff and allowing them to apply for vacant shifts at each other’s hospitals.
The NHS has talked about creating “collaborative staff banks” for decades but the Royal Surrey County Hospital and Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts have founded the technology to make it happen seamlessly.
The collaboration will double the pool of clinicians both Trusts have to cover shifts and help reduce the bill for expensive locum doctors recruited from agencies.
Instead of having a few hundred doctors each to call when doctors are ill or on holiday both Trusts will now be able to draw on more than 2000 clinicians.
The initiative has been made possible by two junior doctors who couldn’t believe it wasn’t possible in a digital age to match their colleagues’ availability with rota gaps that needed filling.
Dr Ahmed Shahrabani and Dr Nicholas Andreou, set out to solve the problem themselves and developed the Locum’s Nest mobile app to stop NHS hospitals spending up to £3.5bn a year on agency staff of which £350m goes directly in agency commissions.
The app allows a hospital to create invitations to work and doctors to say when they would like to work. The app then matches availability with demand and all both sides have to do is press a button to accept– the app does the rest.
Dr Andreou, 29, said: “The idea was born out of our mutual frustration with the system for recruiting locum doctors. We’ve both done shifts as locum doctors and we had a feeling that the hospital and the doctors would get a better service and more satisfaction if they organised the shifts themselves.”
After raising money from friends and family they secured the support of Nikki Hill, the associate human resources director at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.
Ms Hill, said: “We are under enormous pressure to save money and we know hiring doctors from employment agencies is expensive and time consuming.”
Dr Shahrabani and Dr Andreou spent 12 months building the app and then used it to try and organise vacant shifts in the Royal Surrey’s general medicine department.
The results have been both surprising and staggering.
Between October and December last year the Royal Surrey’s general medicine department saw a 300% increase in its own staff taking vacant shifts.
Between October and December 2015 the hospital found just 14 staff members to fill shifts, for the same period during the trial last year Locum’s Nest placed 42 Royal Surrey staff members.
In February it began a trial at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals. Since its launch, Locum’s Nest saved the hospital more than £100,000 and has already filled well over 2000 shifts to date.
Colleen Sherlock, Assistant HR Director, at Ashford and St Peters, said: “It is so simple you find yourself thinking why didn’t I think of that. It really is just Match.Com for clinical shifts.”
She added: “In our medical department, we are now filling over 50% of our vacant shifts with our own staff – before we were lucky to get 4%. “
Locum’s Nest has also brought other unforeseen benefits. Attendance rates for locum shifts are 100%. If you can’t make a shift booked through Locum’s Nest you have to send a personal apology and risk being blacklisted by the app.
Dr Shahrabani said: “Doctors can’t be forced to work more shifts than they already do but through a combination of transparency, convenience and fun Locum’s Nest has managed to make a very bureaucratic process much easier.”
Dr Shahrabani added: “What is nice about Locum’s Nest is it’s a ground up not top down solution to agency staffing. We now have over 2000 Doctors on the app. That’s a real community that are using it because it makes helping your colleagues out easy. None of us mind helping out with extra shifts but previous systems have just been too hard.”
A sure sign of how easy Locum’s Nest is to use is the range of its users. Prof Wright, 71, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, said: "I've worked for an agency in the past and didn't like it. You're being exploited as a doctor and at the same time you're exploiting the NHS. I like the Locum’s Nest system because it is fairer and more transparent."