Published: 06/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5904 Page 32

How can the human resources department improve service?

Judy Hargadon has some suggestions

Human resources managers - indeed all managers - are actively involved in a massive programme of change to modernise the workforce and meet improved service aspirations. Implementing the consultant contract, preparing for Agenda for Change, ensuring EU working-time directive compliance, developing new roles and improving HR processes to support improved recruitment and retention are all issues in HR departments today.

In addition, many newly formed primary care trust HR departments are still developing and refining basic HR services and policies for their organisations.

Some feel very pressurised by these changes, others recognise the benefits that can come from implementing these changes together.Good practice in role extension can help working-time directive compliance. Job planning with consultants can support role extension in others, and partnership working for implementing Agenda for Change improves staff involvement.

However, HR practice has not traditionally been seen as a tool to help achieve service improvement agendas.HR activity is regarded as a basic platform - a set of policies and procedures which have to be agreed and adhered to.Managers have little sense of how effective HR process can help them achieve their goals.

How do you allocate your training resources (money and time), for example? Is it on the basis of fair shares? Is it on the basis of whose turn it is? How does this approach help service improvement?

A focus on service improvement goals will help focus HR activity, realising cumulative impact and speedier improvement.For example, diagnosis of problems in timely discharge from an older people's ward might reveal poor knowledge of social care systems, delays in therapy assessments, managers either new and inexperienced or too set in their ways, or insufficient ward rounds for discharge planning.

Further diagnosis might show that regular use of agency staff limits staff knowledge of local systems, demotivating factors in the way therapy jobs are designed, pressure on consultants to stick to current timetables because of limited availability of surgery sessions for older people, or staff doing courses not relevant to needs of service, funded as part of a retention initiative.

Some HR process techniques to help here might include increasing teamwork, staff rotation schemes, team-based consultant job planning, a recruitment drive, role review, or middle management leadership development.

Focusing HR activity on targeted areas improves results and therefore understanding of impact.Success in one area will encourage others to copy, enabling a faster spread of good HR process and effective use of staff skills.

Judy Hargadon is the Modernisation Agency's director of new ways of working.This is a snapshot of the themes she will be covering at her masterclass at this week's DoH 'HR in the NHS' conference.