Edinburgh Research Explorer

Smartening-up NHS workforce management with IT

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Abstract

Media revelations of dramatic unexpected shortages in NHS nursing capacity, excessive dependence on overseas recruitment and costly agency staff (often NHS workers doing private shifts) are contributing to the public perception of a health service that doesn’t know how to effectively plan and manage its workforce.

The exact size of the NHS workforce remains a mystery; recent estimates put it at 1.3 to 1.6 million people and staff costs at around £136.7bn). The need to get a grip on this situation was recognised some time ago, leading to the procurement and implementation of a new Human Resource Information System (HRIS) for the NHS in England and Wales; with a similar programme underway in Scotland. In theory this should enable a smarter, more agile NHS, ensuring that personnel with the right training and experience are deployed when and where they are most needed, forecasting and planning for changing requirements, and improving the cost-effectiveness of patient care. However, these benefits aren’t guaranteed and similar programmes elsewhere have failed spectacularly. Our own research reveals that there has been little robust evaluation of the effectiveness of HRIS, suggesting that decision-making is being guided more by vision than evidence which, with the latest NHS England contract costing c.£400M, represents an expensive leap of faith. The complexity of these programmes calls for social and organisational research alongside evaluation of impacts on efficiency, quality, safety and patient care.

Clearly, information systems won’t plug the need-capacity gaps that we are observing in the NHS workforce today, for which organisational and policy solutions must also be found, but they are a step in the right direction. With luck, we will see evidence of benefit in the near future but this needs to be properly monitored and evaluated.

ID: 27602310