Can e-rostering help to meet the challenges posed by the European working time directive?

As the August deadline for the European working time directive draws closer, NHS organisations are having to take a close look at their rosters to ensure they are EWTD compliant and an increasing number are looking to electronic rostering to help ensure they are.

Use of electronic rostering has been recommended by both the National Audit Office and NHS Employers since 2007, when they advised NHS trusts to consider using them to help improve their workforce management and reduce temporary staffing costs. And with the August deadline looming trusts’ interest in these systems is intensifying.

Legal constraints

Nurses and other staff groups have been required to work a maximum of 48 hours per week since 1998 under the EWTD, but doctors in training were exempt. However, this exemption ends in August, meaning that for the first time doctors in training will have to work no longer than an average of 48 hours per week. This will make drawing up effective rotas an even more complex task and make e-rostering an even more attractive solution for the efficient management of NHS staff.

A good e-rostering system allows staff to request the times they would prefer to work to their contracted hours, while at the same time automatically ensuring that working time limits and rest time rules stipulated by the directive are adhered to. This enables some flexibility within the system to gives employees a better work-life balance, while ensuring that trusts are EWTD compliant and will not incur penalties through breaches of important health and safety legislation.

Cruciallyan e-rostering system will optimise the use of workforce, automatically allocating staff by skill-mix and grade to accurately meet patient care demands of each department.It should also be able to manage the repercussions of leave requests by identifying potential gaps in the service and locating appropriate cover, thereby minimising the use of locums or bank staff and significantly reducing resulting costs.

Furthermore, an effective system will ensure fairness in the allocation of shifts to staff by removing the subjectivity that may occur in a manual process. Understandably staff wish to work an equal number of shifts, and not to work a greater number of unpopular shifts than their colleagues do, an electronic system will provide transparency and help ensure this equitability.

Intelligent systems

Manual rostering of any staff group will bring about inefficiencies and issues that can be easily removed through the implementation of an intelligent e-rostering system. E-rostering will also release significant administrative time because it is more time efficient, enabling the more productive deployment of managers’ time.  

In its guide Electronic Rostering: helping to improve workforce productivity NHS Employers highlights that: “By improving the way NHS employees are managed through better rostering, greater value can be released from all resources so that better care is provided to patients.”

The aim of a good e-rostering system is to achieve better workforce management by increasing productivity and reducing costs through improved control of resources. However, e-rostering must take into account the unique needs of particular staff groups to deliver real benefits, by taking into account the idiosyncrasies of their work patterns and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.

As an example, an e-rostering system geared to the needs of junior doctors will need to maintain the vital balance between following EWTD and new deal regulations, preventing higher pay banding, protecting vital training time and delivering safe clinical service.