A two-page report on challenges facing the HR professionals in the health service begins with an interview with new AHHRM chief Sally Storey
‘We are short of staff at managerial level, and reduction initiatives have worn away our management capacity to the limit’
Sally Storey: no-one would argue with the content of the framework, but it will put pressure on managers
New chair wants greater partnership
Sally Storey stepped up to the president’s chair of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management last month at the group’s annual conference in Dublin. It represents more than 3,000 HR managers and personnel professionals in healthcare across the country.
“My goal is to work towards greater partnership in HR management between HR managers, team leaders and staff across the organisation. I think we have great skills to deliver, and we need to create a debate about how we can use these skills so we are developing and supporting others,” Storey said.
She told Personnel Today, “We must do this to deliver the high standards in HR the NHS plan demands.”
Storey, who works part-time in her senior HR post at Bournewood Community and Mental Health Services NHS Trust, started working in the NHS 20 years ago when she joined what is now the North West Thames NHS Trust as a graduate HR trainee.
She hopes to use her year as president to promote the views of HR professionals in the NHS and to work with other NHS organisations such as Shrine – the NHS strategic human resources network – and the NHS Confederation, finding practical ways of making the NHS plan a success.
The newly elected president of health service HR managers’ body, the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management, hardly had time to draw breath before the Government launched its plans for tough HR performance targets for the NHS. This followed a hectic time at the annual conference in Dublin last month when she took over the helm of the 3,000-member AHHRM.
Speaking to Personnel Today at her Surrey office last week, Sally Storey criticised the Government’s HR performance framework, calling it overwhelming and claiming it will be impossible for trusts to meet its April 2001 deadline.
The framework has more than 60 points on issues such as flexible working, recruitment and working life improvements, which Storey claims is a tall order for HR to meet.
Storey, who is also HR director for Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust in Chertsey, said the framework – although well-meaning – could mean more work and extra pressure on already overstretched managers.
She said, “I don’t think anyone would argue with the content of the framework, but I think it is going to put a lot of pressure on our managers – particularly those in HR or line managers.
“The people delivering HR are the team leaders, the supervisors and the people who are improving everyday experiences of staff, which is what this is really about. I think we welcome the focus on HR and we also welcome the emphasis on its performance. But I think we have concerns about management capacity in the NHS and its ability to deliver it.”
She added, “We are short of staff at managerial level, and reduction initiatives have worn away our management capacity to the limit. It is difficult to see how a lot of this is going to be accomplished.”
Storey referred to an Audit Commission report published in June which claims that no assessment tool should have more than 20 performance indicators.
The framework sets HR goals that every trust must meet by April 2001, but Storey claimed each point will need a large amount of work.
“Each point does not represent just a few hours of work – it will take time to meet each goal, even though I do not think anybody will disagree with them.
“Take, for example, the issue of widening access to training. This will take time to address because it requires a large number of competencies, although we all agree with the principle. I do not think we will have time to implement this kind of cultural change.”
Storey said hospital trusts are already struggling to motivate managerial staff because of the kind of pay scale on offer. This is one issue facing her own trust. “We have some managers who do an excellent job, and some who are simply outstanding. We can reward the ones who are outstanding with pay rises above the rate of inflation – but only at the expense of others.”
As she points out, NHS human resources managers are dealing with a system which has at the top line a level of payment which would be average for most companies. “In the end we had to opt for pay rises in line with inflation for everyone.
“We could not reward one manager and risk demoralising the others – that certainly does not fit with modern employment procedures.”
Storey welcomed the framework’s emphasis on uniformity of services, but said achieving standards across the entire NHS is still a major challenge.
“It is not right to think of the NHS as Europe’s largest employer: it is thousands of smaller employers with different strengths and weaknesses.
“The framework does focus on providing a consistent service, which is a positive step.
“The standards set out in the framework are what we have come to expect from a modern employer.
“Some trusts already satisfy its requirements, but others may take a while to get up to speed. I think the danger is that the framework could be seen as ticking off boxes, and some could find it overwhelming.”
by Richard Staines