Recycle or Waste?

I received a call last week from a client who wanted me to help her out with a small task. The Trust is about to embark on a major consultation which will result in redundancies.

The HR Director wanted me to look over the consultation paperwork to ensure that it was fit for purpose: in otherwords to ensure it captured everything that needed to be said, in the right language, and succinctly. The HR team had already spent some considerable time pulling it together, and due to the importance of this document, the HRD wanted one last person to look over it before it was finalised.

As I reviewed the paperwork, I cross-referenced certain sections with past consultation papers that I have either written or collected (those which I felt were well written & offered something that I might be able to use in the future). I have written scores of consultation papers in the 12 years that I have worked either in or alongside the NHS and I have quite a bank stored on my hard drive.

And yes, the NHS has been opening and closing wards, reconfiguring services, making people redundant for this whole period….just not at the scale it is at present.

And that’s when it hit me. For years I’ve been recycling the same old document. Each time I get it out, I dust it down by making sure it’s relevant to that particular change programme and is up to date with current legislation.

But the fact is that there are 100s, maybe even thousands of other HR professionals in the Trusts across the country doing exactly the same thing. We’re all investing a lot of time developing bespoke and individual consultation documents for what is essentially a generic document.

Is this the tip of the iceberg? How many other generic documents are being developed and adapted locally? Has the NHS generated a cottage industry in HR documentation?

I’m not sure that I’d support centralisation, but surely there must be some way to bring efficiencies into the system. And for once, I don’t have the answer to this particular problem. Do you?

Remind me, what’s the purpose of this?

Some weeks ago I published a post on the draft Equality Delivery System (EDS).   In brief, the EDS is a  a new framework that Trusts will use to measure how well they have embraced and embedded equality and diversity.  It was due to go out for consultation in November, but I have recently been informed that it’s postphoned until the New Year, although no reason has been given for this.  Pilot sites will start working towards their EDS in April 2011, with full-roll out in 2012.

The current framework of the EDS has been designed by individuals working either in PCTs or SHAs.  In my view the framework, as it stands in draft format, is not transferable to acute or mental health Trusts.    And this an issue, because we know that SHAs and PCTs aren’t going to exist in the very near future, so what is the point?     I understand that this is a question that is being discussed behind closed doors at some trade unions and professional bodies, who (reassuringly) share my views. For us, the consultation will be crucial, as it will be our only opportunity to significantly influence this initiative.

As I began to think through the implications of the EDS in conjuction with the White Paper, I recalled the following:  an ex-colleague of mine, who is now a leading figure in Equality & Diversity in the NHS, recently went on record saying a recent survey had established that c.34,000 GPs have a poor record in terms of their attitude towards diversity.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t around last week when I called to see where this figure came from.

It’s well documented that there is a genuine worry about the commissioning capability and capacity of the new GP consortia.  And there is quiet concern within the Equality & Diversity community about that the capability & capacity of GP consortias to run organisations who believe in equality and the concept of being “effortlessly inclusive”.  And to be clear, this isn’t just a workforce issue, but applies to patient services too.  (Ironically the White Paper is about reducing health inequalities). 

Am I taking it too far by thinking that the EDS has been designed to ensure that the GP consortia embrace and embed equality & diversity?  I think so, we’re not that visionary in the NHS.

Sometimes I feel that the NHS is like a tanker that has invested so much in trying to drive an initiative forward that it can’t change direction mid-course.    The EDS is such an iniative.   I heard a great quote recently when I was talking about the EDS with a leading Equality & Diversity specialist.  She described it as a “piece of furniture”: It sits in the corner of the room, but it looks out of place and nobody wants to use it.  That is exactly the opposite of what we should be striving for.

The pace of change

I met with a friend, Andy, at the beginning of September.   I’ve known Andy ever since he came as a “temp” to work in my HR department one summer.  He’s a bright cookie and after leaving university he worked hard and is now an established HR manager in a good NHS Trust.

Andy was nervous, yet excited, when he informed me that a few weeks previously he had been asked to lead the HR elements of the cost savings programme within his Trust.  He told me about how fast the project was developing and

“any day now we’ll be starting the consultation with staff”.

I sagely responded that it was almost certainly too late to make cost-savings in year.  Then with my “techie” hat on I starting telling him about some of the obscure NHS financial regulations that HR professionals need to be mindful of when managing large scale down-sizing projects.

Almost like an enthusiastic puppy, Andy took notes as he reassured me that it was “full steam ahead”.  At one point, I sat back and warned Andy that 

“This is the NHS, no major change happens that quickly”.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Andy called me today.  He’s feeling frustated because the consultation still hasn’t commenced, and the Exec team still haven’t decided on some of the key details of the road map.  He’s also worried about any negative comments about HR that might arise from the current delays.     I didn’t have to say anything…but I had forewarned this.

What is happening to Andy is not unusual for an HR professional working in the NHS.  Those of us who are passionate about delivering high quality HR advice are ready to respond to the challenge of making things happen quickly.  But more often than not barriers are put in our way.

There’s always those who want to avoid the obvious conflict that arises out of making people redundant;  there are those who are risk-adverse and so want to avoid any Employment Tribunal; and there are those who are just not very good at making decisions.

I see it as our role in HR to effectively influence and negotiate through these brick walls.  And determining the speed of change is within  our gift.  We just have to have more belief in ourselves.