5 key tips to attaining the workforce planning solution your NHS trust, staff and patients deserve: Paul Walker, CTO at Skills for Health

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By Paul Walker | 28 October 2021

The effective design, development and deployment of the workforce underpins our NHS services’ sustainability in the short, medium, and long term. Yet the challenges of ensuring the right people are in the right roles, with the right skills, crucially at the right time, cannot be understated. Meeting the health and care needs of an ever-changing population, in the context of rising demand and complexity is hard enough, let alone in a pandemic.

While COVID-19 has seen new, innovative and integrated ways of working and delivering care effectively implemented across our NHS at pace and scale, benefitting both staff and patients alike. Now is the time to truly embed this workforce transformation to support recovery and achieve long-term, lasting change for a better future. But this is easier said than done.

To create flexible, sustainable services, based on the changing needs of our local communities and against the backdrop of the challenge to restore services, meeting new care demands and reducing COVID-19 care back logs, we must first fully understand, value and fulfil the development needs of our current workforce. Simultaneously, we must support staff recovery and take further steps to address inequalities in access, experience and outcomes, all the while shaping the delivery of the future workforce, ensuring both are fit for purpose.

To do this, unsurprisingly, there are many key themes and issues that need to be addressed to successfully plan your workforce, at the same time as maintaining the quality of care and outcomes against a realistic and affordable budget. The 2021/22 priorities and operational planning guidance, published by NHS England in March this year, sets out some of these, to be paired with the longer-term People Plan priorities for 2022/23 and beyond.

Under the heading: ‘Supporting the health and wellbeing of staff and taking action on recruitment and retention’, the guidance states that service providers should: “Maximise the use of and potential benefits of eRostering, giving staff better control and visibility of their working patterns, supporting service improvements and the most effective deployment of staff’. It also asks providers to: “Show how they intend to meet the highest level of attainment, as set out by NHS England’s ‘meaningful use standards’ for e-job planning and eRostering.”

While this is all helpful guidance, what are the main considerations for trusts in adopting online workforce management systems? And where should you start?

1. Understanding where you are and where you want to get to

The first step in any workforce planning is understanding your organisation and how it works. What are the elements that make your situation unique? All trusts share a common model, but also have unique challenges and pain points. It’s important to recognise and understand these, so that they don’t trip you up at some stage down the line. Also, don’t write off manual processes; they may work very well but be slow and take up resource. Think instead about how these can be automated and what else they could connect to?

2. Flexibility for a work-life balance

Next, you need to understand one of the most important parts of the jigsaw – your staff. Looking after them and effectively deploying them is what the whole process is about. Morale is a crucial issue. Are you sure they’re only working their contracted hours and aren’t being over-worked? Do they have the flexibility they need to maintain a good work-life balance? Are you sure they are not being asked to act up or down? This has other implications in terms of efficiency and planning. All of this must also be critically balanced with patient safety.

3. The key to good eRostering

You can only achieve the above by having systems that provide real time feedback on staff planning and deployment. Systems that will quickly and easily allow you to react and manage issues as they arise.

Compliance is sometimes seen as a chore or a barrier to efficiency, but it is an essential measure of how we safeguard patients and protect the welfare of our staff. Real-time compliance reporting is a vital tool in monitoring how we’re doing. It should not be seen as a pass or fail indicator; it is there to highlight issues and let us effectively and efficiently deal with them.

4. Digital roadmap

As workforce planning increasingly continues to digitise, you are going to become heavily reliant on good digital tools to move your organisation forward. These tools must fit into the NHS digital vision. For example, will those tools integrate easily with other systems? Will they flow data into corporate reporting systems to give better insight across the trust?

No system is an island, but many vendors will push you to buy their own closed system. It is always tempting to think about dealing with as few suppliers as possible, but unfortunately that can lead to putting up with parts of the solution which are anything but optimal. A good solution vendor will commit to integrating with your IT landscape and signing up to KPIs that ensure great service. If they won’t, then you really shouldn’t use them.

5. What people deserve

Finally, make sure you embark on solutions that will deliver what you and your staff both deserve. No solution will be perfect. But provided it is flexible, can be customised, and is backed up by knowledgeable and prompt support, you will get a system you can enjoy using as well as delivering the results you need.

Skills for Health’s new fully enhanced and integrated Custom Rostering System (CRS) launches this week. Developed as a tool for culture change, CRS transforms NHS workforce planning roles from data entry to data intelligence. Providing cutting-edge improvements that enables the seamless management of any staff group, CRS ensures total workforce visibility through the delivery of safe, compliant and more effective rosters for better patient care.

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