Unlocking new workforce efficiencies through the Electronic Staff Record (ESR)

Article first published in the March/April edition of the National Health Executive.

Sean Hopkins is Head of Programmes and Technology for Employment Services at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS). Having been on the original team for the national implementation of ESR (Electronic Staff Record), he now helps NHS organisations to maximise the potential of this existing technology and find transformational workforce efficiencies.

In a recent speech to the Health Tech Alliance, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, reiterated the role that all health professionals must play within the digital transformation of the NHS, stating that “…every medical director and chief nurse needs to know how technology is going to transform what their teams do and lead that adoption”.

As NHS organisations consider what this means at a local level for their own workforces, it is important to note, I believe, that transformation does not always mean investing in and introducing brand new technologies.

In fact, nearly every NHS organisation in the country has an incredibly powerful system already in place. The Electronic Staff Record (ESR) has the potential to drive efficiency, enhance data security, improve productivity, and save money. But, as things stand, many NHS organisations are just about scratching the surface of its capabilities.

A 21st Century NHS

In 2008, the ESR was rolled out to NHS organisations across the country. At the time it was known as the ‘biggest programme of its kind in the world’. I was one of the original team employed by McKesson, the company which created the system, to lead this ambitious national rollout on the ground. Our team traversed the country to train users, migrate huge amounts of data from countless other HR and payroll platforms, and implement the system effectively.

Living and breathing ESR from the very beginning, we understood better than most how it had the potential to transform the NHS via one single, ‘end to end’ workforce planning tool.

Fast forward to 2020 and the frustrating reality is that, whilst ESR has the functionality to provide comprehensive HR systems, employee and manager ‘Self Service’, learning management and more, a significant proportion of NHS organisations are only using the payroll module. It means that many of the day-to-day benefits of ESR go unrealised across the NHS.

Successful streamlining

In an attempt to change this, the NHS SBS workforce consultancy team is partnering with NHS trusts to review their workforce roadmaps. Through this work, we are seeing  time and again that multiple systems and processes are used for HR, workforce data, learning and development, and much more.

Systems that do not talk to each other. Systems that require data to be inputted multiple times. And systems that have often been procured at significant expense – despite the organisation already having access to what they need through ESR.

Today, a huge opportunity exists for forward-thinking NHS organisations to make a ‘leap of faith’ and bring in critical friends who understand the art of the possible and the streamlining potential of ESR.

One such tech-savvy NHS organisation is Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. We have been working closely with the Trust on its ESR reporting requirements.

Mark Brookes, the Trust’s Associate Director of People and Organisational Development had told us that; “It was taking significant resource each month to run reports and get them into the required formats for our board reporting packs”. He added that this meant the workforce team was “running a multitude of separate reports every month and then consolidating the data into the required format“.

Working with the Trust, bespoke reports were created to consolidate the data into fewer reports thus saving a considerable amount of time and resource. This resource was then used to support other workload priorities. Mark explained; “Thanks to these improvements, we were able to release resource to work alongside the NHS SBS project manager to successfully implement the ESR Manager Self Service functionality in October last year”.

A number of other NHS organisations are now following Doncaster and Bassetlaw’s example. Employee and Manager Self Service – or ESS and MSS for short – are key elements of ESR that can be far better utilised.

ESS enables NHS staff to update their own employee records, such as a change of name, in real-time. The reduced reliance on paper is a major benefit.  MSS, meanwhile, enables managers to access live workforce reports, easily update contracts, and monitor competencies and training requirements – all in one place.

In my experience, this vital information is commonly held on different NHS systems and is time-consuming to update – not the case if all the ESR modules are being used effectively.

The future is now

When the Interim NHS People Plan was published last summer, it pointed to the fact there “are significant opportunities to help healthcare teams work more productively, releasing more time for care, helping provide fulfilling working lives and enabling every NHS pound to go further in improving access to – and quality of – care“.

And it could be argued that one of the most obvious and easiest to implement has been right under the nose of most NHS organisations for some time.

The Health Secretary’s Tech Vision for the NHS states that “we should be using the best off-the-shelf technology…and not building bespoke solutions where they are not needed.”A sentiment that seems to define the missed ESR opportunity to date.

In the end, the overarching aim for us all is to enhance patient care. For every NHS organisation we help to get more from ESR, there is greater resource available for the frontline.

Making ESR work as it was designed to across the NHS would deliver huge workforce efficiencies for hospitals up and down the country. The technology already exists – it’s just a matter of turning it on.