How targets for HR will affect funding of trusts

There is now a common framework against which trusts are assessed, and how the HR departments perform is crucial, says Richard Staines

The Commission for Health Improvement will inspect trusts to see how they perform clinically – and in HR

Government plans to link the funding of NHS trusts to the performance of HR departments will not mean trusts lose out on funding unfairly, according to a leading NHS HR chief.

The plan to make the way trusts treat staff a key performance measure was announced earlier this month as part of a new NHS HR performance framework (News, 10 October).

The announcement raised fears that trusts could lose out because of factors beyond their control, such as geographical location or the demographics of the patient population.

Sally Storey, president of health service HR managers’ body the AHHRM, said the system would be fair because inspectors will leave trusts performing well to manage their own affairs. And she said regional bodies set up to accredit trusts on good HR practice and inspectors working for the Commission for Health Improvement would be able to take geographical factors into account because of their knowledge of each trust’s area.

Storey said, “Our regional body is certainly aware of some of the recruitment difficulties we have in Surrey. As long as trusts act to resolve the problems, they will be fine.”

If the Commission for Health Improvement, the NHS quality watchdog, considers a trust has poor HR practices, it will receive money that has been ring-fenced to help raise standards in the health service.

“I think it is fair that we are all compared against the background of a common framework. It should be a baseline which can be used to assess standards,” said Storey.

“I hope there will be none of this ‘name and shame’ nonsense. But I think this sort of framework is long overdue. It should help raise standards and allow hospitals to compare themselves against others in a useful way.”

In the NHS Plan, launched in July, the commission will inspect every NHS organisation every four years to identify clinical weaknesses – and HR failings.

Inspectors will rate trusts using a “traffic light” system that gives the ones demonstrating all-round excellence green status, those that are in need of improvement amber status and failing trusts red status.

The Modernisation Agency – the body appointed by the Government to oversee a cultural change in the NHS – will withhold some funding for red organisations.

The agency will spend its share of the money from the Performance Fund on providing external support from experts in response to the inspectors’ findings, including the HR department if necessary.

“Red” organisations must draw up action plans to improve standards, according to concerns raised in the commission’s report, which regional offices must approve.

Organisations consistently failing to respond to special measures or to implement recovery plans will be put under the control of a new senior executive and clinical team, who will possibly be taken from organisations with “green” status.

Trusts that fail consistently could be merged, split up or tendered out to private organisations under the NHS Plan.

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