Eman Al-Hillawi and Sue Johnson Gregory analyse the NHS, exploring how the industry can balance business transformation with the priority of patient care
The NHS in England deals with over one million patients every 36 hours. With no downtime, it can be challenging to manage much-needed change and make critical decisions, while also ensuring that vital healthcare processes don’t cease. So how can the industry balance business transformation with the need to prioritise patient care?
From the UK’s ageing population to the impact of immigration, headlines are constantly dominated with reports of the numerous challenges facing the NHS. With a lack of time and resources to drive improvements to services, business change is fighting for a place on the agenda. However, the ever-growing demands on the healthcare provider is the exact reason why business transformation is so urgently needed.
The sheer scale and complexity of the NHS introduces a particular set of challenges when it comes to driving decision-making around business change. Rather than operating in isolation, the organisation works in partnership with numerous healthcare providers and trusts across the country, all of which must be considered each time a business-critical decision is made.
The hierarchical nature of the institution’s workforce, which spans medical professionals such as doctors and clinicians, as well as areas such as administration and operations, can also make business change a timely and resource-intensive process. Different divisions of the business often have very different ways of working, which can make it difficult to reach a consensus on strategic areas quickly and keep projects on track.
For many, the holy grail in healthcare service delivery is the achievement of ‘integrated care’, which involves bridging the gap between different services to meet the bespoke needs of an individual, throughout their lifetime. In order to achieve this, a collaborative approach between healthcare and social care providers, education services, police, and other similar partner organisations is essential.
For example, introducing cross-partner and patient working groups can allow different providers to identify shared issues in delivering patient care, and put joint action plans in place. To ensure these are evidence-based and boost chances of success, data collection methods such as patient and partner feedback processes and staff surveys should be embedded in the organisation at an early stage of the transformation project.
While efforts to minimise health and safety risks form a vital part of any project, this is particularly important when delivering change in a healthcare environment. For example, whereas installing Wi-Fi in an office setting may prove relatively straightforward, doing so in occupied patient wards, which have strict rules designed to protect patient safety and dignity, is a very different story.
Putting patients at the heart of change implementation plans, for example, by involving their carers in pilots and focus groups, is essential to ensure their care remains a priority throughout the project lifecycle. Impacts on other groups at the receiving end of transformations, such as NHS staff and visitors, should also be considered to optimise customer engagement on the broadest possible scale.
With millions of patients depending on the NHS every day, it is essential that a potential failure in one area of a project does not undermine overall standards of care. As part of the quest to transition to an improved operating model, a clear awareness of the risks involved, and appropriate business continuity planning are therefore key. For example, if efforts to digitise a particular administrative process fail, it should be fast and straightforward to revert to paper-based processes until the issue is resolved.
Taking steps to future-proof infrastructure by projecting future income sources and patient requirements is also key to achieving long-term project success. This should involve a consideration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies can provide opportunities to streamline processes, reduce pressure on staff and improve the patient, visitor and partner experience.
When faced with stretched resources, it may be tempting to put change projects on hold. However, at a time of competition between healthcare trusts, there is a risk that providers may fall behind, with patient care suffering as a result. Securing advice from experts experienced in delivering change within large, complex organisations can allow healthcare providers to get business transformation projects underway quickly by complementing their existing skills and resources.
By working closely with patients, staff and healthcare partners, and securing the right specialist support, the NHS can transform its services to meet the future needs of all parties, while minimising the impact of change projects on standards of patient care.
Sue Johnson Gregory