The positive impact of effective e-rostering on NHS budgets
“I need to spend less money” is a common sentiment shared in households, by the coffee machine at work and in NHS financial offices.
With recent reports that temporary staffing spend has exceeded £10 billion, there is no time like the present to look at how the NHS is spending, and how it could look to save money in 2024.
Today we are going to focus on one area: e-rostering and the savings organisations can make through implementing effective workforce solutions.
NHS workforce spend: the current landscape
In recent years, the NHS has had to cope with and respond to a host of new challenges. There has been a consistent rise in the number of patients needing care, and the summer of 2023 was the busiest on record for the healthcare service. Rising patient demand coupled with retention struggles as clinicians leave the NHS, compounded by the outdated systems the administrative staff are using to juggle these difficulties, has resulted in the NHS being under unprecedented pressure. These circumstances are no secret; many c-suite members across organisations have claimed the staffing difficulties are “like never before”.
Understandably, solutions have often needed to be reactive and implemented at pace, which can comeat a high cost. One common example of this is plugging staffing gaps with temporary workers – a quick but costly solution that’s resulted in a £10 billion annual agency bill. Nevertheless, the use of temporary staffing is not the root issue. Locum workers serve as a powerful and integral safety net for organisations with vacancies. The problems arise when this process is over-relied on by the NHS – organisations then see agency expenditures surging, pay rates escalating, and time lost to manual administrative tasks. This over reliance on temporary staffing is a complex issue, but intrinsically links back to how an organisation manages its substantive workforce – via e-rostering.
Rostering in the NHS today
Rostering in the NHS has a long and complicated history, and in recent years organisations have attempted to manage their workforce digitally through e-rostering. Organisations are also required to move through NHESI’s e-rostering levels of attainment, highlighting that digital rota management is now a system-wide priority. Yet progress towards achieving e-rostering success hasn’t been all smooth sailing so far. Some of the current systems in operation hinder users’ ability to identify and fill vacancies with available permanent staff. Frequently, rostering technology falls short in providing a comprehensive view of an organisation’s available workforce and associated information, including annual leave entitlements, compliance checks, and governance rules. This adds immense pressure onto individuals in administrative teams who are juggling complex workforce deployment duties and restrictive staffing budgets. Without an effective e-rostering solution, the challenges outlined above therefore commonly result in an overreliance on temporary workers as an easy way of plugging gaps when rostering fails – increasing costs and placing strain on budgets
How can effective e-rostering save your organisation money?
NHS England has set a target for Integrated Care Systems (ICBs) to reduce agency spending to 3.7% of the total pay bill, so what can an effective e-rostering system do to help an organisation achieve this?
A competent e-rostering solution should provide a comprehensive overview of the days, weeks and months ahead through live, real-time data – a single source of truth. This functionality gives full visibility across departments or sites, supporting managers in planning ahead rather than plugging gaps last minute – enabling teams to make cost effective decisions as a result. By surfacing this information automatically, technology does the heavy lifting, which is a far cry from the manual workload that comes with using Excel spreadsheets. A system should offer a comprehensive leave management and entitlements process too, preventing over-allocation and validating contracted hours (both of which can have financial implications when not managed effectively).
Another cost-conscious functionality is the ability to flag individuals who are available but not yet assigned to work and redeployment too, facilitating the safe and compliant filling of rota gaps. With this greater visibility comes more grip and control over the entire rostering process, allowing administrators to make cost efficient calls across an organisation’s staffing levels, redeploying permanent clinicians sensibly with the aid of tech. By utilising substantive workers in this way, over-reliance on temp staff is reduced, driving down costs in the process.
Another vital component to getting e-rostering right is integration. Seamless interoperability means that an organisation’s e-rostering system aligns harmoniously with, and speaks to, other staffing solutions, like a temporary bank. This creates a unified approach to all staffing needs, allowing for real-time visibility of both permanent staff schedules and the availability of temporary staff [see how this works on Patchwork]. By having a consolidated view, managers can make informed decisions about filling gaps in the roster with the most cost-effective worker. This usually means engaging a permanent employee, followed by a bank locum if necessary. This not only minimises reliance on costly agency workers but also streamlines the overall process, reducing administrative pressure. Advanced e-rostering systems can save hundreds of hours for administration teams by streamlining their day-to-day duties, driving transformative savings across an organisation.
As a result, an end-to-end workforce solution removes friction, while the transparency between systems can ensure that reliance on temporary staff is a strategic necessity rather than an unneeded financial burden.
It can be hard to track the immediate impact of e-rostering on NHS spending, but over time, adopting a system that supports administrators’ duties, automates compliance and integrates seamlessly with a temporary staffing solution is essential for sustainable cost control.