Tackling Agency Staff Spend Why We Need Proactive HR Leaders

The Health Service Journal recently reported that the deficit at Medway Foundation Trust was expected to be almost £7million higher than expected.  The Trust had previously been placed in special measures.


Reading a bit further it became clear that one of the challenges the Trust was facing was a much higher level than expected spend on agency staff.


Now as anyone who has worked in a Trust will tell you, staffing costs are by far the single biggest area of spend.  Agency staff spend was a big issue when I was in leadership roles in Finance in the NHS.


While it is clear that there is going to be some need for agency staff, it is worrying that this still seems to be a big issue for so many NHS organisations.


Clearly things can be done by everyone.  There is also in my view a huge role for HR to play in helping organisations to tackle the whole area of staffing.


Some of the things I noticed when working in a financially challenged organisation included the following:


Once an organisation is on a bit of a downward spiral, attracting staff starts to become more of an issue.


An organisation that is struggling financially might also be facing other operational and performance challenges.  The staff who are in the organisation are working really hard because they really care.  However word quickly gets around how demanding it all is.  Some people decide to move on and it’s hard to find replacements.


There are some areas that are just really difficult to recruit to, often because there are national shortages.


Sometimes the geographical location and cost of living is another factor to be taken into account.


Now let’s not pretend this is easy, it’s not.  On the other hand a dynamic proactive HR function can play a huge part in a number of ways, including:


Looking at trends developing, for example staff leaving in certain areas and getting to work with those in charge of those areas quickly.


Paying much closer attention to the results of staff engagement surveys. This could help to determine if there are relationships between staff morale in certain areas and difficulty in recruiting.


Being creative in approaches to recruitment or in the way in which staff who don’t want to work full-time but want to work locally can be accommodated.


Looking at workforce planning as less of an analytical process, and more of a source of insight and catalyst for staff planning longer term.


The Bottom Line:  While this is not an easy area to tackle, it does present an ideal opportunity for HR and indeed whole organisations to get more proactive when it comes to staffing.


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