Flexible working app accused of bringing 'gig economy' to NHS

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A gig economy-style app designed to improve NHS staff management is to be trialled across the health service from next year, according to recent comments made by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

As reported by Wired, Hunt briefly spoke about the app yesterday at the Conservative Party conference, describing its use as a means of increasing flexible working for NHS professionals.

“Nurses need to be able to work flexibly, do extra hours at short notice, get paid more quickly when they do and make their own choices on pension contributions,” said Hunt. “We’ll start next year with 12 trusts piloting a new app-based flexible working offer to their staff.”

Although little detail was given about the exact nature of the app, the GMB Union has criticised its introduction as a means of creating a 'gig economy' NHS.

The gig economy term refers to the rise of temporary and ad hoc work, similar to the model used by taxi firm Uber.

“We have a recruitment and retention crisis in nursing and the ambulance service as it is - forcing them into the gig economy by importing a model that increases precarious working is the last thing we need,” said Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services. “It’s a terrible idea to have overworked, underpaid staff be told via an app that they are not needed for a shift.”

Azam also claims that NHS professionals already work around £11 billion worth of unpaid overtime per year. “The idea that there is some untapped reserve of labour in the NHS that can be unlocked with an app is pure fantasy.”

The news was part of a larger pledge from the health secretary to fund 5,000 new training places for nurses. The nursing profession is the backbone of secondary care, but vacancies and short-staffing in hospitals has increased dramatically recently.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of health think tank the Nuffield Trust commented: “The NHS is facing a double whammy of the consequences of years of dire workforce planning and the potential loss of much-needed staff due to Brexit. Investing now to train the nurses of the future is not only sensible, it is essential.

“The real test for this proposal will come in how readily these new places are taken up. With the abolition of nursing bursaries, we have to hope that potential nurses continue to be attracted to the profession. But, as the RCN showed last week, nurses are increasingly stressed and demoralised by the very shortages this policy is intending to tackle.

Edwards concluded that tackling staff shortages must go "hand in hand" with efforts to improve low morale across the health service, which is a major factor behind the loss of nursing and medical staff.


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Marco Ricci

4 October, 2017