Using national guidance to plan its whole workforce has been a trust-wide ambition for a South West PCT. Helen Mooney reports on how the work has paid off

Over the past year Plymouth teaching primary care trust has become the first in the country to use the NHS National Workforce Projects six steps guide to workforce planning across the whole organisation and, according to staff, it is paying off.

"By implementing this programme we have changed the culture of the organisation in terms of how people think about workforce planning, from it being seen as something human resources does to something that all managers and budget-holders do," says director of workforce development Helen Allen.

The PCT started to implement the programme in February 2007 when it decided to introduce the planning across the whole organisation. The PCT set up a multidisciplinary team drawn from the workforce planning and development, finance, and public health teams to kick-start the programme.

Dedicated team

Helen was charged with spearheading the programme. "We originally looked at workforce planning in the mental health directorate and subsequently found that to really make a difference, we had to address it on an organisation-wide basis," she says.

"There were already pockets of good practice in the PCT, for example in public health, but as a whole it was patchy."

Helen says setting up a dedicated team to roll out the use of the programme across the organisation was invaluable, especially as it secured the support of the finance department.

The PCT's 230 managers and budget holders were then invited to an awareness programme to introduce the six steps workforce planning programme and explain to them how they would be required to produce plans over one, two and five-year timescales.

"The team developed and delivered a one-day programme to managers and clinical leads across the PCT, and this was followed up with strategic and pragmatic input at all levels within the organisation," says Helen. All managers were expected to feed their planning into a bespoke workforce planning template to reflect the current and future workforce predictions within their teams.

The PCT used the elements of the six steps guide to introduce a straightforward framework for all the PCT's workforce planning. Broadly the guide was applied by asking each manager to define their workforce plan; outline forces for change; assess demand; assess supply; undertake a gap analysis and subsequent action planning; and carry out implementation and a review of the plans.

PCT public health consultant Kevin Elliston was involved in the programme from the start and formed part of the multidisciplinary team. He explains how he used the public health six steps guide for workforce planning and also introduced the generic guide to the PCT.

"I thought that using the six steps in public health and then more widely across the PCT would be fantastic. There were some pockets within the PCT where there was already some excellent activity taking place and it was up to us as the central team to facilitate the sharing of that best practice to different teams," says Kevin.

Master-class

The PCT ran a one-day master-class for all budget holders where the six steps tool was introduced along with the National Workforce Projects e-learning and six steps self-assessment toolkits.

Helen says the PCT has learnt valuable lessons about the culture of the organisation while implementing the guide.

It found that while some managers are very skilled in workforce planning, most needed support to link together the financial, workforce and planning elements of the process.

Helen also admits that not all teams took up the planning process initially but many now see it as a valuable tool.

To address this, the PCT linked the workforce planning model to operational issues, including recruitment and management training to show how planning is central to processes day to day.

Over 70 per cent of the 230 budget holders within the PCT have now completed workforce plans, all of which have been incorporated into the PCT's local delivery plan for 2008-09.

Helen says she is confident the activity on workforce planning across the organisation will continue, as it has been made mandatory for recruiting new staff.

"Using the six steps model, which has user-friendly tools, managers were able to see what they had in terms of workforce, what it cost and what they would need in the future," she says. "The guide gave us something we could use to benchmark and we developed a staged approach to this, which is a good way of doing it because it makes you stop and think about your workforce."

She says workforce planning across the PCT rather than just at HR level has now become the norm rather than the exception.

PCT head of workforce planning and education David Priscott says using the guide helped "focus minds" on workforce planning but he cautions it is important for organisations using the model to tailor it to individual need.

"We had to tailor it so it was relevant to all budget holders, those who work on one-year, two-year and five-year plans," says David.

The tool was tailored for the PCT's 230 budget holders, then "coalesced" to the next level to those in charge of 10-30 budget holders, then to associate director level and finally to director level.

The team is now developing an effective workforce planning scorecard for use within the PCT. This will detail financial and workforce development information.

David adds: "Ultimately it has been really enjoyable to implement. As an organisation we now have 15 categories for the scorecard and we continue to work with managers to help them tackle these workforce issues".

Local features in Plymouth PCT's planning

  • Trust-wide workforce planning, using electronic staff record and planning tools

  • Workforce planning is now part of day-to-day trust business

  • Detailed workforce plans are being developed across clinical and non-clinical directorates

  • Increased awareness of financial position, age profiles and workforce risk assessment

  • Developing a more efficient workforce by reviewing skill- mix and succession planning

  • Integration of workforce planning into the corporate management programme

  • Integration of public health workforce planning issues across directorates

Rationale behind using the six steps guide

  • Commons Health Select Committee's 2007 report on NHS workforce planning

  • Streamlining of workforce planning with the local development plan process

  • Payment by results/national benchmark price

  • South West demographics - ageing workforce