£10 million investment revolutionising NHS business services

A £10 million investment by NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), which is aimed at transforming back office functions across the health service, has led to 48 NHS organisations signing contracts for a range of finance, procurement and employment services.

Since the beginning of 2017, a number of leading NHS providers have made the switch to shared services, whilst more than 40 NHS organisations have renewed or extended their relationship with NHS SBS.

It means that, in total, NHS SBS now provides at least one business service to well over 100 different NHS providers and arm’s length bodies across the country. In addition, 100 per cent of England’s NHS commissioning organisations (currently around 250) use NHS SBS’s finance and accounting service – via NHS England’s Integrated Single Financial Environment (ISFE) – whilst almost a third of commissioners also benefit from other business services (employment services and/or procurement) provided by NHS SBS.

The Future Services Programme – the major investment underpinning the rise in the number of NHS organisations relying on NHS SBS to improve their back office – was launched last year after NHS SBS carried out a landmark review of the services it provides to the NHS. It is aimed at reducing NHS reliance on time-consuming, expensive, inconsistent, and often error-prone, paper processes, by developing new innovative ways of working that befit a modern healthcare system.

By investing in best of breed technologies, like robotics and automation, NHS SBS is providing the means for trusts to meet NHS Improvement (NHSI) spending targets and the efficiency savings identified by Lord Carter, whilst supporting the delivery of national policy, such as Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs).

One of the NHS trusts to sign a major new contract with NHS SBS earlier this year was the world-leading specialist heart and lung centre, Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. In light of the national efficiency imperatives, and to prepare for its relocation to a new purpose-built hospital, the Trust had a pressing need to modernise its finance, accounting and procurement processes. It turned to NHS SBS to replace an almost entirely paper-based back office with an innovative systems-led way of working, which has meant better control of expenditure, faster and more accurate financial processes, and far greater transparency.

Roy Clarke, Director of Finance at Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, explained “To achieve the back office efficiency savings set out by Lord Carter and ensure robust systems at a time of significant change for the Trust – as we move to a brand new hospital – modernising our business functions through NHS SBS, particularly with its experience of working with so many other parts of the NHS, was seen as a key element to underpin our wider Trust strategy.

“Our business services play an important role in supporting our clinicians to deliver world-class patient care, by providing them with the best possible platform that ensures they have the right tools and information at the right time. With NHS SBS we’ve seen a leap in the maturity of our systems in a very short space of time.”

Two newly formed NHS trusts were also amongst those signing brand new contracts with NHS SBS in 2017. The Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust both needed a trusted provider of NHS finance and accounting services that could help their respective mergers.

The latter was established after the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust joined forces to form a single organisation. The new Trust required modern systems that would eliminate printing costs and the duplication of effort with previous paper processes, reduce the need for time-consuming manual interventions, and provide a much clearer overall financial picture for the Trust.

Caroline Walker, Director of Finance at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, said “At Peterborough and Stamford we had been using NHS SBS for years and were happy with the service. I therefore didn’t for one minute consider a backwards step of reverting to doing things in-house. Hinchingbrooke was using a mix of in-house and a different outsource provider. But it was apparent fairly quickly that the best option would be to bring the new Trust onto NHS SBS systems.

“NHS SBS made strong recommendations to us early on in the process and its experience in this area was something we relied on. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. The NHS SBS team really handed it to me on a plate when it came to what we needed for a successful implementation.”

With some of the biggest NHS trusts in the country turning to shared services in recent months, the service enhancements being introduced through the Future Services Programme have also benefitted those NHS organisations with an existing partnership with NHS SBS.

The development of a new automated VAT system that is unique to the NHS, for instance, now means the automatic VAT treatment to over 90 per cent of NHS transactions. This saves time and money as NHS finance teams spend less time reviewing VAT queries and less money on third party advisers. The better accuracy that automation enables has also helped reduce VAT under claims.

NHS Dudley CCG went live with the new VAT system in the 2016-17 financial year and saved almost £40k in under claims alone. The amount of its purchase invoices that now have VAT treatments automatically assigned, meanwhile, has reached 98 per cent, leaving the finance team with more time to focus on more complex areas of work.

Elsewhere, with its continuing drive for more automation in the back office, NHS SBS has been helping providers to forecast significant efficiency savings in areas that have traditionally relied on paper-based systems. After recently introducing ePay for around 6,000 employees, for example, The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust is expecting over £150k cost savings in the next five years, through improving the accuracy of staff timesheets and expense claims by eradicating around 1,000 paper forms every month. In addition, the automated system will release countless hours of staff resource previously wasted on time-consuming and often duplicate admin tasks.

Commenting on the on-going transformation of the NHS back office, David Morris, Managing Director at NHS SBS, said:

“Modernising the back office to ensure the NHS gets best value from the way it spends its finances must be a priority to alleviate rising costs resulting from increased frontline pressures. Exploiting national economies of scale is more important than ever, but shared services must be about more than off-the-shelf outsourcing.

“Our Future Services Programme has been focused on actively listening to our partner NHS organisations, finding new ways to work to make their lives easier, whilst designing future services around their needs. The investment we are making into emerging technologies is on behalf of the entire health service, directly supporting transformation and helping to shape how the NHS can get more from its spending.

“The recent growth in the number of new customers is a clear indication that NHS trusts can see the value we are offering, and that our collaborative way of working will help them respond to both local and national priorities, supporting a sustainable healthcare system for future generations.”

For NHS organisations seeking more information about the benefits of partnering with NHS SBS, a contact form is available here.