NHS Sandwell case study: Engaging staff through technology The challenge A staggering 96% of NHS Trusts experienced a shortage of nur
NHS Sandwell case study: Engaging staff through technology
A staggering 96% of NHS Trusts experienced a shortage of nurses in 2016 – and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust in the West Midlands was no different.
With 7,200 staff serving a population of 530,000, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust provides a vital service to the region and in addition to facing an ongoing challenge to recruit and retain staff, it also needs to tackle the escalating spend on temporary staffing, and a need to reduce employee sickness rates.
To combat this challenge, the Trust gave itself the bold mission to be “renowned as the best integrated care organisation in the NHS”. The delivery of this vision depended heavily on having a skilled and engaged workforce. To achieve this, it needed to enhance morale and increase employee engagement scores to be amongst the very best in the NHS.
April 2016 saw the Trust implement ‘SWBH Benefits’, a truly innovative employee engagement package. The aim was simple, to become an employer of choice by introducing a first-class benefits offering and offset the cost by implementing an innovative home technology salary sacrifice scheme with significant employer savings.
While the Trust had historically offered various health and wellbeing benefits, they were fragmented and had no dedicated management or communication resources, resulting in limited staff engagement. This all changed with SWBH Benefits, because all of the existing benefits, along with a wealth of fantastic new ones, were accessed via a new, single platform called ‘Hapi’, created by employee services business Personal Group plc. In addition, Let’s Connect, which is part of Personal Group, provided an innovative home technology salary sacrifice scheme via the platform, enabling staff to obtain the latest technology for in a more affordable manner. By doing this, the Trust was able to neutralize the cost of the entire engagement platform through employer savings from the technology scheme – a ‘win – win’ situation.
One of the key challenges for all NHS Trusts is how to better engage and communicate with employees spread across such a large organisation. To this end, the Hapi platform is supported by a dedicated management team who ensure all employees receive the relevant information. Hapi integrates Sandwell’ s entire benefits offering into a single app and delivers push notifications, making it accessible for staff on the go – vital when three quarters of the Trust’s workforce spend 80% of their time away from their desk/PCs.
Rapid deployment for fast results
A key feature of the Hapi platform is its modularity, meaning it can be up and running fast, as well as allowing the option to easily add new benefits and modules at any time. It can be easily customised to meet each client’s needs without the requirement for bespoke development, meaning that Sandwell could make the platform their own. Following an initial design meeting, Sandwell launched a new cost effective benefits package, portal and app, with benefits including:
- Salary sacrifice schemes for:
- Home technology
- Cycle to work
- Childcare vouchers
- A nationwide discount scheme offering 6,500+ discounts
- Local discount scheme with 22 regional partners
- Health and wellbeing benefits
- Lifestyle planning
- Financial / debt management support
SWBH Benefits launched with a huge staff event – their biggest to date – at Sandwell Hospital, with more than 1,000 staff in attendance. The event featured a variety of stalls to showcase the range of benefits available on the new platform, and competitions to engage staff.
The event also helped to achieve another objective – by linking it to their annual flu vaccination campaign, they successfully vaccinated an additional 300 staff – the most they’ve ever completed on a single day.
Anyone who attended the event, got a flu jab, or signed up to the app was entered into a draw to win prizes including tablets, TVs, laptops and games consoles. The SWBH launch event received positive feedback from both management, HR and the frontline employees.
Salary sacrifice scheme: a popular way to engage and mobilise
The Let’s Connect salary sacrifice scheme – which is now a core element of SWBH Benefits – appealed to the Trust first and foremost because it provided the opportunity for staff to spread the cost of technology purchases over 36 months, paying directly from their salary without the need for credit checks or upfront payments. This fitted well with the Trust’s desire to promote better IT skills and digital literacy as it gave lower paid staff to access otherwise unaffordable equipment. This helps to close the digital skills ‘gap’ that often exists between lower and higher paid workers.
In a survey conducted as part of the consultation with HMRC, Let’s Connect found that salary sacrifice schemes which enable employees to buy home technology products, can make a significant positive contribution to people’s lives. It supports education, improves IT skills and provides access to technology to those who otherwise may not be able to afford to do so. This demand for technology is supported by data from MISCO/Microsoft, which shows that a typical UK household has on average up to ten devices, with six connected to the internet. This is expected to grow to 19 devices per household by 2020.
Since the initial launch, the Trust has rolled out the technology salary sacrifice scheme twice. So far, over 300 employees have taken up the scheme: delivering estimated savings to the trust to date of a whopping £64,000
Margaret Stephenson, an employee at the Trust said: “Without SWBH Benefits I would never have been able to buy my laptop. Now I couldn’t imagine being without it – I use it to help with my children’s homework as well as write up reports and answer emails. It has helped to make my work life more efficient. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it outright without the scheme.”
The impact on patient care
Despite only launching in October 2016, the benefits offering is already playing a key role in enabling the trust to realise its vision of becoming renowned as the best-integrated care organisation in the NHS. This was demonstrated in its 2016 annual NHS National Staff Survey, which clearly showed an improvement in employee engagement. Highlights included:
- In answer to the question “Does your organisation take positive action on health and well-being?” The proportion of staff who answered “no” fell by 12.5%
- When asked “During the last 12 months, have you felt unwell because of work-related stress?” Those who answered ‘yes’ reduced from 38% in 2015 to 34% in 2016
In combination with various health and wellness initiatives, the SWBH engagement and benefits programme has contributed to the following improvements (April-2016 vs. Jan-2017):
- Sickness absence reduced by 12.3% from 4.9% to 4.5%.
- Filled 297 clinical roles, including 184 staff nurses.
- Staff turnover (exc. junior doctors) reduced by 8.5%
- Staff turnover for nurses reduced by 14.7%
- Reduced time to fill vacancies from 26 weeks to 21 weeks
Improved engagement and productivity
The Sandwell NHS annual staff survey showed that 86% of staff feel the new benefits package is a positive improvement. This view is shared by the various benefits providers that also integrate into Hapi. Tusker, Sandwell’s salary sacrifice car scheme provider, commented: “The levels of engagement and collaboration that SWBH has shown between us, their HR team, and employees is amongst the best we’ve ever experienced.”
Toby Lewis, Chief Executive of the Trust added: “The delivery of SWBH Benefits has been superbly executed and has created a level of enthusiasm and participation that is taking our organisation to new heights.”
Since implementing the scheme, the Trust has improved productivity by reducing sickness absence from 4.9% to 4.5% (April-2016 vs. Jan-2017), reducing the Trust’s cost of sickness from £9.08m to £8.57m, generating additional savings of £510k.
Through their benefits package, the Trust has also immunised 81% of its frontline staff against flu in 2016, up from 73% in 2015, and comfortably exceeding the industry average of 50.6%*. By vaccinating 81% of frontline staff against flu, the organisation has minimised the risk of infection to patients. In fact, the Trust was one of the first to hit the CQUIN (Commissioning for Quality and Innovation) target of 75% immunisation, achieving it within just five weeks –its fastest ever delivery. Its success was rewarded with a 2016 Flu Fighter Award from NHS Employers.
Amir Ali, Head of Employee Benefits, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust added: “The response to the SWBH Benefits programme has been fantastic. We’ve been able to offer a wide array of benefits through Hapi, and place it in the palm of our employees’ hands. We’ve seen fantastic take up, which in turn has enhanced morale, reduced sickness and ensured we continue to retain and recruit the very best nurses – we couldn’t ask for more!”