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Five ways to better NHS workforce planning

July 2017

Five ways to better NHS workforce planning

Whilst the intention for every HR team is proactive workforce planning, it can be challenging to accurately predict the staffing requirements in a seemingly unpredictable NHS. By their very nature NHS trusts are complex organisations so capturing the required information for analysis and planning can be hard.  Combine this with a constantly changing environment and complex organisational structures, it is inevitable that workforce planning can be more reactive than proactive. 

In such a turbulent time it can mean that information and assumptions can become quickly out of date, and for the staff that can be quite disheartening because it often represents hours of work.

But, we must not forget that we are not alone.  The times we face are not dissimilar to those in those in other sectors, especially finance.  They too work in unpredictable environments where predictive intelligence is in short supply and forecasting is essential and using their knowledge and experience they are able to achieve their targets.

So, if you are revisiting your plans for the third or fourth time, here are a few things to bear in mind...

1.     Think long not short term

Make your workforce reviews a continuous process rather than being conducted once or twice each year.  Getting into the mind-set that it needs to be looked at once a month means the plans are continually evolving.  The impact of the wider economy can be factored in as you go with small adjustments rather than large scale overhauls.

2.     Prioritise

Start by selecting a few specific wards, departments or staff groups that will have the most impact. Those areas with constant vacancies, hard to fill posts or the largest use of bank and agency staff. Develop a forecasting model and approach. Test against actual results and continuously seek to improve progress against them.

3.     Focus on process

Focus on enhancing reporting processes that give up-to-date information. Creating a timely, accurate and dependable current view is a prerequisite for looking ahead with any certainty. Retrospective analytics and reporting represent a lower priority than maintaining the forward view.

4.     Build in agility

Organisations which are growing or changing fast must shape their workforce models to be able to respond and (if necessary) adapt quickly to change. Consequentially systems that record workforce data must be able to flex at speed to feed in the actual data and insight to give flexibility when designing staffing plans.

5.     Turnkey thinking

Establish planning, forecasting and reporting models with replication in mind so that they can be easily used across the organisation. This means that any newly created division or department can develop and manage their forecasts efficiently and this paves the way for consistent and synchronous forecasting and reporting across the Trust.

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