Realising the paperless revolution - How rostering in the NHS went digital

Alan Duffell profile picture

28 March 2018

Alan Duffell
Director of Workforce
The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust

Staff retention and attraction is an ever increasing point of focus for NHS workforce leaders, with staff engagement seen by many as a key to solving the issue.

I recently had the pleasure to be part of a healthcare workforce expert group which came together to discuss such challenges in the context of e-rostering technology use in the NHS for workforce deployment and planning.

The discussions and collective experience of the group have been used to inform and shape the production of the latest workforce optimisation technology report, Realising the paperless revolution: How rostering in the NHS went digital.


e-rostering in the NHS

The Workforce Deployment Expert Group, as we’re known, brought together workforce experts from academia, the NHS and Allocate Software. It was interesting to see how our conversations about e-rostering use in the NHS quickly fell into three clear themes: staff retention, patient care and cost efficiency.

However, from my experience e-rostering is not as straight forward as this, it isn’t just a case of plugging in a piece of software. It takes trust-wide time, effort and ownership, and don’t forget robust policies and processes.

e-rostering takes trust-wide time, effort and ownership, and don’t forget robust policies and processes.

Alan Duffell    

As I am quoted as saying in the report: “So, the technical information is one thing, but it's important to get systems and processes working. It's changing the cultural element but also looking at the leadership element.”

One of the key findings from the report is that e-rostering technology can support staff retention and attraction by giving the workforce greater control of their shifts and flexibility in their working patterns. This was particularly evident in the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust case study shared by fellow expert group member, Liz Lees.

e-rostering technology can support staff retention and attraction by giving the workforce greater control of their shifts and flexibility in their working patterns.

Alan Duffell    

The trust undertook a flexible working project in an effort to empower frontline staff to take ownership of e-rostering, as the trust believed this would lead to more effective workforce deployment, improved staff work-life balance, and increased productivity.

The trust saw temporary staffing usage reduce by 14%, agency usage reduce by 12%, and sickness decrease by 3%. This was facilitated by encouraging their staff to access rosters online via the mobile app and opening rosters to allow 100% of contracted hours to be requested.

An important point to take from this project was that changing the rostering process also brought about culture change, which helped create an environment for sustained organisational learning in relation to rostering.



To make the report a helpful document for NHS trusts we have developed key recommendations, which I hope workforce leaders take on board: 

  1. Operational workforce and rostering process data should be shared within and across trusts, alongside clinical performance, activity and finance data. This should be centrally facilitated, through systems like the NHS Improvement Model Hospital Dashboard. This local use of national data will enable meaningful comparisons and drive improvement.
  2. Trust boards should assess themselves against the workforce optimisation opportunity map to determine any areas where they currently are not leveraging technology, but other trusts have successfully deployed.
  3. Human resources directors working closely with nursing and medical directors should continue to digitise key aspects of workforce planning.
  4. Trust boards should develop a robust roster policy that has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for managing rosters from board to frontline staff and will help ensure a dynamic, demand-based approach to rostering.
  5. Those responsible for the workforce need to embrace workforce optimisation, in the context of the Five Year Forward View, by having systems that are able to support working across health and social care, through sustainability and transformation partnerships, integrated care systems and accountable care organisations. Thus, ensuring the workforce is more flexible to the needs of the population it serves, through better identification of who to deploy.

It has been great to see so much workforce innovation taking place across the NHS. I’m particularly excited by what the future holds as trusts realise even more potential from workforce optimisation technology.

You can read the report by visiting

About the author

Alan Duffell profile picture

Alan Duffell
Director of Workforce

Alan has wide experience within the NHS, incorporating OD, learning & development, leadership & management development, as well as other HR related roles. He joined the board of Wolverhampton in April 2017 after previously holding the position of Director of HR & OD at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, where he had been for 5 years, with board level responsibility for a wide-ranging workforce portfolio, as well as H&S and Business Continuity.

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