Winter is a testing time for hospitals, bringing an enormous amount of pressure on resources and on staff. Bryan Kessie looks at how effective staff management through e-rostering can help hospitals to meet these challenges, improving staff morale and patient’s experience.

Bryan kessie

Bryan Kessie

Bryan Kessie

Winter is a notoriously difficult time for hospitals, and this year appears to be no different. In the run up to the critical Christmas period and facing soaring bed capacity, NHS Improvement instructed hospitals to ”cease” elective procedures and focus on emergency care.

This followed earlier recommendations to outsource procedures to the private sector, to cope with what Jim Mackey, chief executive of NHS Improvement, called “unprecedented demand”.

The worst could be yet to come. According to a recent Nuffield Trust report, last winter’s busiest day was 26 January, which saw hospitals having to find almost 4,400 additional beds: the equivalent capacity of seven hospitals.

In the face of such intense pressure, Nuffield Trust chief economist John Appleby commented that “patient’s care is bound to suffer”, and staff morale is low. A recent BMA report showed that 78 per cent of doctors believe the NHS’s ability to cope during this time is lower than it has been in the last three years.

Departments need to ensure they are working as efficiently as possible, and there are steps hospitals can take to plan ahead for their busiest time of year.

Avoid the rostering fire fight

Rostering is an ongoing challenge for hospitals, and any gap in staff rotas can leave staff struggling to pick up the slack when demand is at its highest. Introducing an e-rostering system can make a significant difference.

E-rostering pulls information on shift patterns, annual leave, sickness and skill mix into one central place, enabling managers to build accurate rosters quickly and easily

Where rosters are created manually, they can be out of date before they are even printed. Last minute changes or absences instantly confuse things, adding pressure to an already stressful situation.

Roster managers find themselves fire fighting to incorporate last minute tweaks, when they could be planning ahead to identify and fill any gaps in the skills mix. Hospitals may find themselves with no choice but to turn to agency staff to meet demand.

E-rostering pulls information on shift patterns, annual leave, sickness and skill mix into one central place, enabling managers to build accurate rosters quickly and easily. Users of Skills for Health’s e-rostering system, Realtime Rostering, report taking 75 per cent less time to plan schedules and reducing their locum spend by as much as 20 per cent.

Accessibility and accuracy

E-rostering schedules can be filled up to a year in advance, and crucially, amendments can be made in real time.

As soon as schedules are available, staff can review their allocations and request any changes. Inbuilt alerts ensure that any requests that would leave a shift non-compliant are rejected.

Once staff requests are approved, the schedules are instantly updated. Individuals can access and review their rotas anywhere, at any time.

This increased accuracy and transparency has a hugely beneficial impact on staff. They can request changes easily, and are clear on exactly where and when they are needed. They can be confident that the rota is accurate and up to date, leaving them free to focus on patient care.

Reduce agency spend

Hospitals regularly come under fire for their use of costly agency or bank staff. While this cannot always be avoided, e-rostering can help reduce organisations’ dependency on these sources.

Lord Carter’s review into operational productivity and performance in English NHS hospitals, published in February, recommended e-rostering as a means of ensuring staff are deployed in the most productive way

With the increased foresight e-rostering offers, hospitals can identify any scheduling gaps further in advance and take steps to fill them from their existing teams. This could save organisations significant amounts by making best use of the staff they already have.

Lord Carter’s review into operational productivity and performance in English NHS hospitals, published in February, recommended e-rostering as a means of ensuring staff are deployed in the most productive way. This could become even more significant, after Care Quality Commission and NHS Improvement announced plans to assess how well trusts make effective use of their existing resources, including looking at their rostering efficiency.

With Lord Carter’s review also recommending all trusts switch to fully integrated digital systems by October 2018, e-rostering looks set to become part of the solution.

Confidence in care

The impact of more efficient, streamlined and transparent staff scheduling cannot be underestimated, particularly at a time when resources and staff are pushed to the limit.

Organisations can plan ahead, putting robust, effective measures in place for their busiest time of year. They can deploy existing staff resources where and when they are needed most, reducing the need to turn to agencies to fill gaps.

They can reduce the amount of cancellations due to staff absences, increasing patients’ trust. Above all, patients can be confident that they will receive the care they need, and staff can be confident that they have the support they need to deliver it: helping to ease the pressures of winters to come.

Bryan Kessie is head of technical development at Skills for Health. For more information on how e-rostering could benefit your organisation, click here, or contact Skills for Health on 0117 910 2286 or realtimerostering@skillsforhealth.org.uk.