Ex-SDLP deputy leader McKinney reinvents self as digital pioneer
Ex-MLA's new app will help care homes to fill shifts
A former TV broadcaster and politician is turning his hand to app development in a bid to tackle staffing problems in local care homes.
Former UTV political correspondent and SDLP deputy leader Fearghal McKinney left politics last year after losing his South Belfast Assembly seat.
He is one of the founders of PickaShift, whose software allows care homes to fill short-notice shifts by connecting them directly to workers using the app.
After targeting the Northern Ireland market, the 55-year-old is hoping to expand across the rest of the UK and further afield.
"I had, in political life, been involved in healthcare and came face-to-face with the pressure," he said.
"When I left politics I had been dealing with it, and was approached by people who had been working on a number of issues.
"Out of that spun the idea from Liam Lavery.
"It's dealing with these two significant points facing nursing homes.
"When someone calls in sick, they have to fill the shift.
"So, they have to ring around staff, and that takes time. If they can't fill the shift, they ring the agency, and that could be two to three times the cost.
"It addresses those areas. We have spent a year from concept to app development.
"We believe we have a very good quality product, and we are now taking it to market.
"We have trademarked it in Europe and the US, and will step into the rest of the UK as we build up."
The company makes money by taking a commission.
Mr McKinney explained: "We provide app software and supportive technology, all for free.
"They sign up, and encourage workers to sign up, and we take a small fee for each shift."
He said the feedback so far had been positive.
Asked about leaving politics more than a year ago after failing to get elected to the Assembly, Mr McKinney said he had enjoyed his job at Stormont.
"I worked hard, I enjoyed my time as an MLA," he said.
"Circumstances meant I couldn't continue. I don't believe in mourning, but dusting yourself and getting on."
He added that a return to the cut and thrust of politics was "off the cards".
"I'm throwing all my efforts into this," he said.
"It's a good, viable and productive product."
Mr Lavery and Peter Graham, both care home providers and fellow founders of PickaShift, said: "The idea of the app was developed in direct response to the growing pressures that nursing and residential homes have found themselves in due to a growing ageing population and the scarcity of supply of staff."