At times the news pages of mainstream and business media give the impression that all NHS projects, especially those involving process change and technology, are failures. But there is a counterbalance to these tales of disaster - success stories.
Head of one of these success stories is Dr Simon Willcock, programme director for the NHS Electronic Staff Record (ESR), a new UK system that provides NHS trusts with a platform for payroll and staff management.
The NHS is the world's largest publicly funded health service, providing free healthcare round the clock. It is also the largest employer in Europe. Since the NHS was divided into a series of trusts in 2004, each individual trust has managed its own pay and staff. As a result, healthcare in the UK had no single standard for pay and staff management until the launch of ESR.
With every trust pursuing its own procurement course for pay and staff management, it was impossible for the UK Department of Health (DoH) to accurately count how many people work for the NHS and how big the wage bill needs to be.
"There was little integration between the different systems. Payroll systems were ageing and often we saw green-screen tech-nology," Willcock says. Many trusts were looking for new pay systems individually.
Willcock is confident his project will reduce NHS costs by £273m. It will do this in three ways: a single entry of data; a focus on costs; and key performance metrics. ESR is tasked with providing the NHS with four main improvements in knowledge and management of staff. It has to streamline the cost of maintaining employee records; provide greater data protection and central management of staff records; deliver to the NHS a single repository of employee data, with a single record for each employee that can be accessed anywhere in the NHS system; and improve services to NHS staff including the accuracy of staff records.
As a result, the DoH will receive reports on a regional level and will be able to gauge costs and improve efficiency accordingly. However, the system will not be used for the management of agency staff, on whom the NHS is increasingly dependent. Many NHS trusts operate their own agency staff systems, known as banks, and these can be added to the ESR system if the trust chooses.
"The NHS needed a workforce planning system," Willcock says. "There were a var-iety of pay systems and HR systems that provided unreliable reports."
The closest the DoH had to a measurement of NHS staff numbers was a census - a snapshot of the organisation little different to the national census that occurred in 2001. "A census is only accurate on the day it is carried out for an organisation such as the NHS," Willcock says.
The ESR project was formed in 2001 and kicked off with the selection of the Oracle Human Resource Management System and Oracle Payroll applications. From the off, Willcock and his team, along with Oracle integrator McKesson, have been developing a workforce management system for the NHS that will have real-time reporting abilities. Monitoring will allow efficient management of staff, staff costs and issues such as absence and training.
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