Avoiding expense overpayments in the NHS

With increasing innovation and investment in technology, the UK's National Health Service, the NHS, is currently in the throes of real digital transformation. The move to a paperless NHS is one part of the process that has been well documented but so have the doubts about when it will happen. While many industry voices agree that the NHS needs to cut out the paper, drive efficiencies and harness digital technology, there is a lack of consensus around when this will be achieved -- estimations vary from 2020 to 2027.

However, it’s important to put this into context. As the nation’s single biggest employer, with 1.7 million workers across the UK, the NHS is the fifth-largest workforce in the world. With this size and scale comes a myriad of processes which all need to be automated and digitized, especially for back office functions such as HR and payroll.

Delving into digital processes

Streamlining HR and payroll workflows with accurate and auditable processes is a key part of the journey to a paperless NHS. With the recent launch of NHS Digital’s Internet First policy and the publication of its early guidance, transferring to cloud-based systems has become even more pertinent for NHS organizations. The move to public internet is all about supporting the growing need for health professionals to work flexibly and remotely, whilst also reducing costs. In this case, when staff aren’t physically able to fill in forms or manually sign off paperwork, bottlenecks are created which can lead to payroll problems further down the line.

Delays, duplicate or lost forms can have a huge impact on an organization's bottom line and researchers from the London School of Economics estimate that up to £63 million a year is wasted in overpayments, because systems are failing to keep track of staff. With changes to salaries, new joiners, movers and leavers, it’s important that this information is captured in real-time by the HR and payroll teams.

More functionality than a paper form

For HR teams manually managing recruitment and overtime paperwork this is a burden that consumes significant hours, drives up costs and reduces productivity. Increasingly NHS HR and payroll departments are looking to eliminate these obstacles. Many sites such as Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Colchester University Hospital have taken steps to tackle the issue by replacing traditional paper-based forms with electronic ones.

Built around the organization's requirements and current approval process, e-Forms transform existing paper-based forms into easy and efficient processes -- but they can also bring much more functionality. By integrating with the existing Electronic Staff Record (ESR) information is automatically populated into the forms, significantly reducing the need for staff to manually enter data and making tasks such as updating change of details more accurate and effective.

Additionally, important documentation such as offer letters, employment contracts, induction checklists and bank details can be completed digitally and immediately sent to the HR and payroll teams for processing. With full visibility of documentation, managers are able to track the progress of forms, reducing uncertainly and repeated calls to the department they are dealing with. This level of transparency also allows information to be communicated quickly and accurately across departments. For instance, changes to salaries and termination forms can be automatically routed to the payroll teams so that payments can be amended accordingly.

e-Forms also offer a more streamlined approach to overcoming the potential errors that come with deciphering people’s handwriting, losing pieces of paper, or forgetting to fill out key details.

Avoiding overpayments

With a high level of demand across the country for healthcare professionals, NHS organizations regularly have additional shifts available for their staff. However, manually managing this process and sorting through paper timesheets is not only time consuming for HR teams but on occasion, can lead to errors in repayment. By implementing automated workflows for processes such as overtime, HR teams are given real-time visibility of all outgoings and forms can be quickly authorized. Moreover, e-Form solutions like GreenLight Workforce prevent lost paperwork which in turn reduces the number of duplicate forms that are submitted by staff and authorized by HR and payroll. Helping to streamline workflows with accurate and auditable process, minimizing the risk of delays and overpayments.

Given the overall size of the NHS workforce, even the smallest oversights in payroll accuracy can have a significant impact on the bottom line. With a need to deliver transformational change and ongoing efficiency gains, organizations need to continue their pursuit towards a paperless NHS. Harnessing technology such as e-Forms not only reduces the administrative burden on healthcare professionals but also increases visibility, streamlines workflows and ensures accurate payment. Ultimately, helping the NHS to save money which can then be used to deliver better patient outcomes.

Photo Credit: Marbury/Shutterstock

Ben Western is Senior Business Development Manager at Selenity.

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