Public Sector Finance – Spreadsheets to bed sheets.

NHS finance staff could play a role in meeting NHS recruitment targets by retraining for jobs in front line healthcare.

The suggestion has emerged as part of the health service’s shared services initiative, which could see basic financial services for the whole NHS run from as few as ten shared service centres.

Savings from the scheme could be as high as #180m, mainly coming from a reduction in manpower. Similar schemes in the private sector have led to 25% cuts in staff.

The NHS Executive has been saying for a long time that many of the surplus staff could be redeployed. But it is only now becoming clear that this could involve finance staff swapping their spreadsheets for bed sheets.

Two pilot projects, one in West Yorkshire the other in the South West region, were launched in April to test the practicalities of running shared service centres. Both have identified retraining finance staff for the front line as a serious possibility.

In its bid to be selected as a pilot, the West Yorkshire project said: ‘The biggest challenge for the NHS is the recruitment and retention of additional front line care staff. (The pilot’s) vision embraces a commitment to explore ways of helping to resolve this issue by offering staff who no longer see their future in finance opportunities to retrain to take up alternative work including front line care support work.’

John Yarnold, project director of the South West shared services pilot, told Accountancy Age that his pilot was also actively considering opportunities to retrain staff as healthcare assistants or for duties in clinical governance, clinical audit and clinical administration. ‘The people side of this initiative is the most challenging.’

With the NHS Plan committing the government to recruiting an extra 20,000 nurses and 6,500 extra therapists and other health professionals by 2004, redeployment of finance staff makes sense. But that is not the only reason the NHS must look after its finance staff. Final decisions have not been taken over whether shared services will be run from ‘centralised’ locations, requiring staff to relocate, or as devolved operations connected by the internet.

But staff concerns about job losses or about having to relocate could lead them to find new jobs now, giving the NHS a short-term headache over staffing in key areas such as payroll. Sensitive management of finance staff reductions, is seen as a way of preventing panic job-hunting.

For more on shared services see

Related reading