Published: 24/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5828 Page 7

A 'shortfall of competence' in human resources is hitting primary care trusts because of the Shifting the Balance shake-up, delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Managers heard last week.

In a workshop session on HR in PCTs, south east London shared services partnership HR director Julia Whitehouse warned: 'You will notice a number of shortfalls - resources, staffing and, when you work through that, a shortfall of competence.'

Management development was needed as 'many have been promoted ahead of time'.

She said: 'Where have all the HR people gone? The ones that are there are very junior compared with the salary they are on. Many of the senior people in things like health authorities have disappeared. They haven't been successful in the reorganisation. They have gone out of the profession.'

Ms Whitehouse outlined the huge agenda facing HR managers and urged them to start by putting basic systems in place. 'You have to make it quite clear You have got the basics right - a recruitment service that works.

'If you are a new PCT you need to consolidate the new systems.

Identify what needs to be done to keep the boat afloat.'

And she advised the establishment of partnerships between HR professionals at neighbouring PCTs to share their workloads. 'If you do the working time directive for me, I'll do the temporary workers directive for you.'

Ms Whitehouse concluded: 'The only way We are going to survive this is if we learn to work together.'

Speaking after the session, Ms Whitehouse told HSJ: 'We have found a lot of junior staff coming through where far more is being expected of them than should be.

It is important to find ways of developing HR staff so they are fit for purpose.'

She stressed that she had 'no problem with a fast track' for rising junior staff, but there had to be a 'safety net' for them.

PCTs would cope because there were 'enough senior professionals around who will work their socks off to make sure it works', she said, but added: 'Some of the targets may be at risk because new people were not up to speed quickly enough.'