HR must drive change in health service

Elaine
Way, president of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management,
explains how the successful modernisation of the health service will depend on
HR professionals’ ability to drive change.  By Ben Willmott

HR
professionals in the NHS have a great opportunity to raise their profile and
increase their influence as the Agenda for Change programme to modernise the
health service is phased in.

This
is the view of Elaine Way, president of the Association of Healthcare Human
Resource Management (AHHRM), who was involved in the negotiations that secured
the Agenda for Change agreement.

Under
the programme, the basic pay that staff receive will reflect the knowledge,
responsibility, skills and effort required in their job, rather than their historic
job title or occupational group.

Way
believes the programme will transform the way NHS staff are paid, appraised and
developed, creating significant opportunities for HR professionals to prove
their value.

"Rather
than having an automatic annual increment, for the first time ever there will
be a formal annual appraisal for all members of staff to make sure they are
applying the knowledge and skills that you would expect at that stage of their
career.

"It
is important to stress the word ‘applying’," she added. "Many people
have lots of skills and knowledge, but don’t necessarily apply them to their
jobs.

"We
need to match the organisation’s priorities with individual development and HR
has a very important part to play in that."

The
Agenda for Change programme is currently being tested at 12 NHS sites and is
expected to be introduced nationally from October 2004.

Development
opportunities

Way
said the programme’s appraisal process would help ensure that all staff have a
personal development plan which will enable them to operate to their full
potential, and to identify and meet training needs, so they can progress
through the organisation. She also believes it will help NHS HR staff develop
their own skills, and highlight areas where they need to increase expertise.

Way
is confident Agenda for Change will help modernise the service by enabling
managers to be more creative in creating new job roles that meet the needs of a
changing health service.

"Everything
done within the NHS should now be evaluated, weight put on it, and have a fair
salary attached to it," she said.

"In
the past we have come up with good ideas, but because we had to attach a
particular pay grade to it, staff would not see the pay as attractive for the
type of role we were offering."

Adequate
resources are essential

However,
Way – who is also chief executive of Foyle Health and Social Services Trust in
Northern Ireland – warns the agenda will not deliver change unless it is
properly resourced.

"The
Department of Health needs to ensure it is putting resources in place to ensure
the most can be made of the Agenda for Change," said Way.

"If
it doesn’t, what will happen is that HR and line managers will be very good at
ensuring everybody is transferred to the correct new pay band, but they will
not have the capacity to design jobs differently, or deliver services
differently. It is vital we have this investment in HR and service
delivery."

According
to Way, one of the biggest challenges will be freeing managers from their day-
to-day responsibilities, so they can be properly trained in elements of job
evaluation.

"It
is important when they are writing job descriptions and personal specifications
that they are clear about the role, the sort of person they want and how that
fits inside job evaluation," she said.

"They
also need to know about the new personal development review and how that is
going to work. Taking them through skills exercises of doing appraisals and
feeding back to people is a lot of down time from hands-on NHS delivery, and we
therefore need resources put in place to take people out of what they are doing
so they can do training."

Way
is optimistic that the three-year pay deal negotiated as part of the Agenda for
Change will take some pressure off HR departments and help them support the
change process.

HR
skills

Way
told Personnel Today that AHHRM is beginning to look at how it can support its
members in terms of their professional development.

The
organisation is considering looking at creating its own NHS-specific HR
development programme to help members meet the new challenges they face.

"Previously,
we have taken the view that the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development
(CIPD) is the most skilled organisation in terms of supporting professional
development. But we are beginning to think about how we can support
professional HR development specific to the NHS," said Way.

"We
will be seeking a meeting with Andrew Foster [the NHS HR director] looking at
how to take this forward in conjunction with the Department of Health
(DoH)," she said.

Way
is enthusiastic about the establishment this summer by the DoH of an HRM (human
resource management) capability unit in England to help improve HR skills.

"This
shows investment in developing HR practitioners and directors," she said.
"The whole focus is about developing capability rather than capacity. The
unit has been investing in programmes, particularly around the issue of
leadership in HR.

"Similar
initiatives are happening in the other three countries across the UK," she
added. "All the departments of health are recognising this as a priority."

Workforce
planning

One
of the key skills Way identifies as being essential if the HR profession is
make its contribution in helping the health service meets its service targets
is workforce planning.

She
believes excellent progress has been made in recruiting more nurses and allied
health professionals and therapists, but said that there were still significant
staff shortages in certain areas and across certain professions, including
doctors.

"The
skill in good recruitment is about effective workforce planning, so you have a
clear longer-term view of the skills you will require, and ensure that you put
together a strategy to meet those needs," she explained.

However,
she added, recruitment would not be such an issue if the NHS was better at
retaining the staff it already has.

Retaining
staff

Way
thinks retention is closely linked to the extent that staff are engaged with
and involved in running their organisation.

"If
you allow frontline staff more freedom to design out difficulties and design
their own work patterns, delivery style and training needs, you would improve
morale and ease retention problems.

"I
think it is important to strive to become a leader of leaders rather than a
leader of followers, to try and empower frontline managers and staff," she
said.

Way
believes the issue of improving morale in the NHS is so critical that AHHRM is
to carry out some research in partnership with the DoH and the CIPD to try and
pin down the factors that improve morale across the health service.

Her
own morale is extremely high as she nears the end of her year as AHHRM’s
president. She looks forward to the organisation’s conference on 1-3 October,
and is optimistic that HR is well placed to play a central role in the
modernisation of the NHS.

Elaine
Way’s CV

1996
to present – Chief executive of Foyle Health and Social Services Trust (FHSST)

1993
– Unit general manager for FHSST

1991
– Director of HR for FHSST for the Western Area

1977
– Specialised in personnel management and progressed through various posts in
personnel to become director of HR for the Western area at FHSST

Joined
the health service straight from university as a graduate management trainee

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