As demands placed on NHS staff grow, employers accept that more can be done to properly use and retain the talents of the people who make up the health service, writes Danny Mortimer

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The demands placed on NHS staff are a profound challenge for all parts of the service. Demand is growing because we are able to do more for our patients and because many of our patients need more care. The growing pressures on the NHS and other public services, not least in social care, greatly exacerbates the demand.

While investment is clearly needed to mitigate pressure and there is a gap to close in terms of numbers, employers accept there is more we can do to make sure we are properly using and retaining the talents of the people and teams who make up the NHS.

Our growing use of technology to support clinical services and staff deployment is a good news story for the NHS. The UK uses e-rostering not just to schedule staff but also to deliver new ways of working. The use of the data the NHS holds through such systems is increasingly seen as a powerful tool to improve safety, reduce spend on agencies, and improve staff retention.

Technology matters

I recently had the pleasure of chairing a healthcare workforce expert group, to discuss the application of e-rostering technology and its use in the NHS for workforce deployment and planning.

The discussions and collective experience of the group have been used to produce the latest workforce optimisation technology report, Realising the paperless revolution: How rostering in the NHS went digital.

The Workforce Deployment Expert Group brought together workforce experts from academia and the NHS. It was interesting to see how our conversations about e-rostering use in the NHS fell into three clear themes: staff retention, patient care and cost efficiency.

The resulting report showcases how some trusts lead the way in using technology to better manage and support their clinical teams. The report presents analysis of data that shows how workforce optimisation technology can improve efficiencies and improve patient care.

One of the key findings from the report is that e-rostering technology can support staff retention and attraction by giving our people greater control of their shifts and flexibility in their working patterns. This is evident in East and North Hertfordshire Trust.

The trust saw temporary staffing use reduce by 14 per cent, agency use reduce by 12 per cent, and sickness decrease by 3 per cent

The trust undertook a flexible working project to empower frontline staff to take ownership of e-rostering, as the trust believed this would lead to more effective workforce deployment, improved staff work-life balance, and increased productivity.

The trust saw temporary staffing use reduce by 14 per cent, agency use reduce by 12 per cent, and sickness decrease by 3 per cent. This was achieved by encouraging their staff to access rosters online via the mobile app and opened rosters to allow 100 per cent of contracted hours to be requested.

Changing the rostering process was seen as part of wider culture change, which helped create an environment for sustained organisational learning in relation to rostering.

We also saw that through the use of workforce data and tighter control of workforce deployment, Derbyshire Community Health Services FT were able to bring about a 3.3 per cent reduction in unavailability of substantive staff over a single year, which produced £2.1 million in efficiency savings.

The group also recognised some of the limitations in the use of technology with nursing and midwifery teams leading the way, and other parts of the workforce much further behind in recognising the potential benefits to their teams and services. There is real policy and political interest in the area and we hope this translates into further substantive support.