HR teams are rising to the challenges presented by contract negotiations, the patient safety drive and overseas recruitment

We are living in a time not simply of constant change, but of perpetual organisational upheaval.

‘The Francis report has led to significant change in the way organisations look at staffing levels’

Financial constraint, combined with rising demand, the impact of technology and progress on the Francis recommendations mean that the HR department is looked at more and more for solutions. Solutions not only for the issues of today but for the challenges ahead and the desire for a sustainable healthcare system.

The nature of the workforce, the workplace and work itself is changing. It is no wonder then that the HSJ HR barometer is set at “changeable”.

It is really hard right now to have a meaningful, thoughtful debate about the challenges (and opportunities) facing the NHS.

A lose-lose situation

On the one hand, if you talk up the remarkable things the NHS does, day in, day out, you get accused of being in denial about the size of the challenge and can be portrayed as part of the problem. On the other hand, if you highlight the significant changes needed you can easily be accused of demonising a well loved institution for personal gain. It can seem like lose-lose.

‘The NHS is now probably the country’s most diverse organisation’

The Francis report has led to significant change in the way organisations look at staffing levels and it is a debate that is clearly needed. This is a debate that should involve our hearts as well as our heads, but we also need to be aware of what can appear simple solutions.

HR folk know only too well how easy it can be to hit a target without considering the law of unintended consequences. Organisational change is not a linear process – it is complex and we need to be aware of the interdependencies, particularly of multidisciplinary working. The survey shows that there is significant change afoot.

On pay, as most organisations are implementing Agenda for Change flexibilities, concerns about the cost of increments are giving way to the challenges of introducing seven day care. Organisations are citing consultant resistance and medical terms and conditions of employments as barriers to change.

Rising to the challenge

In negotiations with the British Medical Association we have been clear we want to see an end to automatic time served pay progression (as we have already agreed with other staff groups), extended plain time working hours, more local discretion on clinical excellence awards and removal of the clause in doctors’ contracts that is seen as a veto on evening and weekend work by some. These are not complex changes but they are pressing.

On workforce strategies like increased retention, return to practice and flexible working will play a significant role in the next year. Organisations are also increasingly active in overseas recruitment. This will in turn shape changes to training, development and education here. The NHS is now probably the country’s most diverse organisation.

What is clear is that, when it comes to change for individuals, for teams, for sections, for departments, for organisations and for the healthcare system, HR teams are rising to the challenges and getting on with implementing change.

Dean Royles is chief executive of NHS Employers