Comet Feature: How state of the art software is solving the staffing puzzle at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital

David Adeniji at the controls with one of the hospital matrons

David Adeniji at the controls with one of the hospital matrons - Credit: Archant

We all know computers are very powerful things. But do we realise they have the power to help relieve hospital patients of pain, ensure they are cared for round the clock and potentially save their lives?

A state-of-the-art piece of software at Stevenage’s Lister Hospital is helping staff do all those things, quicker and more effectively.

On Thursday I visited the control hub from where this recently installed piece of hi-tech kit – known as the ‘safe care system’ – does its magic.

As someone who is an IT tortoise, I watched slightly agog as e-Roster administrator David Adeniji sat with the hospital’s red-clad matrons, intently studying a series of – to me, unfathomable – numbers on spread sheets on two huge monitors.

From here, staff can look at the numbers of patients on each hospital ward combined with the seriousness of their conditions, to determine exactly how many hours of treatment from doctors or nurses they will need in any given day.

Also with the click of the mouse, David is miraculously able to transfer staff from areas of the hospital that have less need to those where more care hours are required. This includes bringing in more staff from the hospital’s bank of shift workers or – if required – external agencies.

Taking a break after his daily 8am numbers game, David tells me: “It’s exciting because there are different situations and issues every day.

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“Patient activity constantly changes and so do staffing needs. But it allows us to react quickly and deal with patient care.”

Looking at the maze of numbers, he adds: “It’s not pressurised but you have to be able to spot what’s happening at any one time.” I certainly admire his calmness in what must be an incredibly challenging situation.

The software works on a sliding scale with patients graded as ‘0’, needing 4.9 hours of staffing in a 26-hour period, up to patients who are graded as ‘3’ who require 26 hours staffing – i.e. one-to-one care.

Because patient conditions can change rapidly, David has to look out for red flags on the screen and respond to them quickly with the help of the matrons around him.

Because staff on the wards can update their systems minute by minute and feed into the central server, it’s a very accurate picture and means the hospital can rely far less on bringing in expensive agency staff for long periods of time to cover shifts. Instead, they can juggle staff around more easily and bring in their own bank of doctors and nurses who might be able to cover extra hours. This has the knock-on effect of helping the hospital save cash in an ever more stretched funding situation.

Staff can keep up to date with changing rosters on an iPhone app, and crucial review meetings three times each day mean the hospital can react to an ever-changing need for care.

Clinical workforce systems manager Rupert Clarke adds: “The biggest change has been a cultural one.

“Rostering used to be something done in an office by a matron or manager and it was something that was done to staff. We’re putting it on the ward. It’s becoming more of a collaborative and inclusive process for everybody. It creates a sense of ownership and responsibility for all staff members.”

The system also allows the hospital to review staffing needs over weekly and monthly periods, and plan ahead much more effectively on the basis of the data.

It’s all a far cry from those images of stressed out ward managers running around with clipboards but – in an age where efficiency is king – it must be a welcome addition for hospital managers.