Peter Wilson, public sector industry architect at Pegasystems, speaks to BBH about why hiring more staff isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the NHS’s COVID-19 backlog and how we need to reduce backlogs once and for all
The COVID-19 pandemic has created massive backlogs across UK public services, with long waiting lists for everything from getting a new hip to benefit payments to justice in court.
One strategy to sort out these hold-ups is to throw more people at fixing the problem.
But, this is nearly always a false economy.
Let me explain why, and what should be a better course to follow.
Hiring more people takes time and focus away from the goal, and away from the issue you are trying to resolve.
In doing so, valuable time is spent interviewing and training people hired to address a short-term problem when. in fact, there are much better/faster solutions to resort to.
We must remember that people are not solutions to immediate problems, they are investments in long-term growth
We must remember that people are not solutions to immediate problems, they are investments in long-term growth.
Having more staff, especially when inexperienced, also means opening the door to more human error and inconsistencies, contrary to the strong belief that by simply adding more heads, this will increase productivity proportionally.
So, while it sounds great on paper, however, without the right strategy in place prior to hiring means costs money and time while trying to reduce backlogs.
Ultimately, some resource constraints can't just be solved with more people.
A final nail to the coffin, hiring more staff doesn’t guarantee to turn around the problem fast enough, nor improve processes for the long term.
There is too much uncertainty, and with many people’s livelihoods or even health at stake, it’s important we approach this carefully.
There is obviously a need to create extra capacity, whether that’s more surgeries or courts.
But we also need to acknowledge that there are processes that can be streamlined and accelerated to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks on how cases are progressed faster, and decisions made sooner.
To pick apart the challenge, one thing we know for certain is that the Government already has all the data it needs to reduce backlogs, it just needs to apply intelligence and automation to make it happen.
As a first step, it’s essential to have a unifying platform that can better automate data processing to ensure queues are reduced rapidly and fairly.
One thing we know for certain is that the Government already has all the data it needs to reduce backlogs, it just needs to apply intelligence and automation to make it happen
A modern technology platform also has the ability to break down siloes and act as a central hub of information, overall improving the way the public service programmes operate day to day.
Bringing data together more effectively to process the bulk of simple unambiguous cases, surfacing complexity/ambiguity in a more-efficient way for human review, fundamentally eliminates the need for big battalions of people doing low-level/low value processing.
This sets the scene for Artificial Intelligence coupled with Intelligent Automation to make a significant contribution in reducing the backlogs currently clogging up the UK’s system.
And, using this technology, it is possible to prioritise and triage cases by quickly conducting intelligent risk assessments of each using pre-determined rules and criteria.
In short, there needs to be a total focus on how backlogs can be more intelligently tackled through artificial intelligence coupled with intelligent automation so this accumulation of administrative tasks can be a thing of the past, citizens can benefit from quick and efficient services, and government workforce can focus on more valuable and engaging tasks.”