Software that allocates staff safely and appropriately while helping to meet their shift preferences is also helping to save trusts’ money. Jennifer Taylor logs on

Allocating nursing and medical staff to shifts is a challenging task, juggling the multiple the often conflicting priorities of ensuring clinical governance requirements are met, adequate care is provided, and staff requests are accommodated.

You end up with an efficient and safe roster which returns the maximum amount of time to care

Given that up to 70 per cent of NHS expenditure relates to people, how nursing and medical staff time is managed can have a major impact on expenditure. Managing and controlling such a large workforce can only be successful if there is an integrated solution controlling and supporting the whole process.

Traditional paper based systems are time consuming and are correct at just one point in time. Sickness, changes in staff preferences and other events have to be manually updated. The result is that staff may be ineffectively allocated and temporary staff are then needed to fill the gaps.

E-rostering is increasingly being adopted by health service organisations to use staff more efficiently and ensure a safe level and mix across staffing groups. Effective rostering systems can save trusts on average 1.5 per cent of the nurse bill by using up all contracted hours, says service provider Allocate Software.

The system matches resources with demand, starting off with the most difficult and most expensive shifts to fill, to ensure shifts contain the right skill levels and staff preferences.

To implement e-rostering, trusts must have a rostering policy, which sets out how issues like annual leave will be managed. For example, Allocate Software’s MAPS Healthroster solution takes account of more than 150 NHS specific rostering rules, such as annual leave and training needs.

“It incorporates all these requirements and allocates shifts in a fair and objective way, to ensure patient demand is met and the specific rules of that particular ward or unit are adhered to.” says Allocate Software director of business development Allen Swann.

Even spread

Staffing issues can be managed more effectively, so that, for example, annual leave can be spread evenly throughout the whole year, avoiding shortfalls and surpluses in staffing during certain periods.

Staff can enter their preferences for shifts and ward managers can balance those preferences against demand, while ensuring adequate safety and competence.

Mr Swann adds: “Trusts can expect to save 1.2 whole time equivalents per ward per year. In a 30 ward hospital where a whole time equivalent is £25,000, a saving of one whole time equivalent per ward per year equates to over £750,000 in a year.”

It can also be used to allocate doctors to rotas, ensuring they are compliant with the European working time directive.

With a time snapshot of eight to 12 weeks ahead, issues can be spotted in advance and corrective action taken. Being able to view the rosters of multiple staffing groups has enabled managers to allocate and deploy all required staff to deliver a collective capability such as an operating theatre.

With paper based rostering, an average of 71 per cent of staff have an inaccurate pay record.

Having the right level of cover helps ensure clinical governance requirements are met.

Mr Swann says: “You end up with an efficient and safe roster which returns the maximum amount of time to care.”

Case study

When County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust decided to replace its old manual rosters, it wanted to improve management information and understanding of staff costs. The trust also wanted to rely less on bank and agency nurses and make better use of its own staff.

The trust now uses the MAPS Healthroster to manage 2,500 nurses, including bank nurses, on 52 wards, and processes more than 1,600 timesheets each month.

E-rostering has enabled management to review rosters weeks in advance and make informed decisions about future staffing.

To measure the savings generated the trust compared data from one year before and one year after implementing e-rostering on the wards. The trust had already made savings of £600,000. It has projected savings of £1.2m across all wards.