Almost two years on from Lord Carter’s review into productivity in English NHS hospitals, the Workforce Deployment Expert Group has investigated workforce planning and deployment in the UK.

The Workforce Deployment Expert Group consists of leaders from academia, the NHS and Allocate Software, e-rostering system provider, who between them have unrivalled knowledge of workforce management and deployment. The group convened to discuss workforce issues the NHS faces and how electronic rostering is being used to overcome them.

The group also explored where trusts could use e-rostering to make further improvements in workforce management and deployment. This is particularly significant, as Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced, at the NHS Providers conference in November 2017, that NHS Improvement believe there is a £1.4 billion efficiency saving per year by 2020/21 to be made if all trusts follow best practice in e-rostering and job planning.

Staff shortages, financial constraints, and increasing patient demand are issues for the NHS, however, the group believes that the adoption of technology creates an opportunity to make better use and deployment of its greatest asset – the NHS workforce. The group’s discussions and collective experience have informed the content of this report, which focuses on staff retention, patient care, and cost efficiency.

The group assessed how the NHS uses workforce optimisation technology and levels of sophistication, focussing on the implementation, innovation, and benefits of e-rostering systems. The report examines the innovation taking place at NHS trusts across the country and new data from an exemplar trust – East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust. The trust has seen improvements in agency staff spending, staff engagement, and dementia care, through innovative workforce deployment.

It can be difficult to agree a standard definition of workforce optimisation, as it can mean different things to different people, as its uses vary greatly, from paper-based rostering through to operationally-live rosters using live patient and staff status. To address this issue and answer the question, ‘what does good look like?’, the group has developed a workforce optimisation maturity index which identifies the key functions within workforce optimisation and how they are being used currently in the UK.

E-rostering is used in countries around the world, which look to the UK because of its unique and leading position in maximising the use of this technology. UK trusts are innovating, using data to plan and deploy the workforce, which has a big impact on the challenges of staff engagement and retention, reducing costs and improving clinical outcomes.

  • Chapter 1 starts with getting the basics of e-rostering right and using it to improve payment accuracy
  • Chapter 2 looks at putting the patient need at the centre of the roster to improve care
  • Chapter 3 explains how e-rostering can support trusts to meet the needs of the workforce
  • Chapter 4 shows how trusts can use rosters to maximises efficiency for the organisation as a whole
  • Chapter 5 explores a practical example of how e-rostering supports better management of leave, which positively impacts on patients, staff and the organisation
  • Chapter 6 examines how workforce data can be used to enhance workforce deployment and planning

The expert group welcomes the examples of how the NHS is leading the way in terms of workforce planning and deployment internationally, however, it concludes that best practice needs to be widespread across the NHS in order to fully realise the benefits of workforce planning and deployment technology.

Through this exploration of workforce optimisation, the group have developed five recommendations of how to enhance the deployment and planning of the NHS workforce for trusts in the UK. They are:

  1. Trust boards should assess themselves honestly against the workforce optimisation maturity index, to identify what they are doing well, what they could improve and what else they should be doing to ensure safest possible care for patients and financial efficiency with regards to rostering.
  2. HR directors working closely with nursing and medical directors should continue to digitalise all aspects of workforce optimisation, particularly those who have not embraced it fully.
  3.  Encourage and enable ownership of workforce data and its utilisation throughout the trust, as this is the only way to achieve sustainable change. This may be done through appointing workforce data champions.
  4. Develop a robust roster policy which has clear defined roles and responsibilities for setting rosters from board to frontline staff, which will help ensure a dynamic approach to rostering.
  5. Those responsible for workforce need to embrace workforce optimisation in the context of the Five Year Forward View, moving away from the silos of staff in hospitals, but having systems that can support working across sustainability and transformation partnerships and accountable care organisations and systems.

These are practical recommendations which will help NHS trusts harness the support e-rostering systems can provide to the workforce. Therefore, improving staff engagement, patient care and productivity.

1. Getting the basics right

2. Patient needs in minds

3. Improving staff satisfaction

4. Right for the organisation

5. E-rostering impact

6. Unlocking workforce data