A major shift in shared services

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 18

With many clinicians describing this as the most pressured winter they have ever known due to heavy demand on frontline services, the savings potential for hospitals from outsourced and managed services in the NHS back office cannot be dismissed, argues David Morris, managing director at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS).

When NHS SBS was established 12 years ago as a public-private joint venture between the Department of Health and technology expert Sopra Steria, its remit was to partner with NHS organisations to provide a professional, high-quality service that delivered efficiency savings that could be redirected to frontline care.

Today, considering the unprecedented financial and operational pressures faced by current NHS providers and commissioners, this ethos is more important than ever.

As part of the NHS we have so far been able to channel over £400m savings back into the healthcare system – money that is better spent on patient care. Our ambitious new three-year strategy, meanwhile, aims to provide a total of £1bn savings to the NHS by 2020.

Realising this goal in a relatively short space of time, however, requires a shift in the way shared services are delivered to NHS organisations. It is no longer enough to simply provide low-cost transactional services. To ensure a successful healthcare system for future generations, modern-day outsourcing means being an enabler for true NHS transformation.

With this in mind, NHS SBS is on its own transformational journey, investing heavily in best-of-breed technology to expand our offer. To respond to the needs of a healthcare system that is having to adapt to meet growing patient demand and cope with unprecedented workforce challenges, we are introducing new modern ways of working across our areas of expertise, such as hospital finances, procurement, and NHS staff recruitment and retention.

Against a backdrop where every pound saved on corporate and admin functions is an extra pound to be spent on patient care, our emphasis is now very much on implementing innovative technologies that enable even greater efficiencies.

Right first time

In recognition of the need to do things differently, we launched a £10m investment programme in 2016 to enhance and future-proof our three core business lines: finance and accounting, procurement, and employment services.

Here we invested – at our own risk and behalf of the entire NHS – in more automation to speed up various manual systems and improve the accuracy of a number of NHS business processes, promoting a ‘right first time’ culture that has made the lives of those working in the NHS back office easier.

We reported last year that this – the single largest investment in our history – led to almost 50 NHS organisations signing contracts to partner with us in 2017. It took the total number of NHS providers and arm’s-length bodies who rely on NHS SBS for at least one business service to well over 100.

All of the country’s NHS commissioners, meanwhile, continue to use our payment platform via NHS England's Integrated Single Financial Environment.

Bringing others on board

Building on this in the year ahead, our aim is to show the value of shared business services to other parts of the NHS, those that have so far not benefitted from outsourcing or the products and services that have been developed to improve specific NHS processes.

We want more NHS organisations to follow in the footsteps of the newly-named Royal Papworth Hospital NHS FT and replace their outdated paper-based processes with modern digital systems by outsourcing their back-office functions to NHS SBS.

We want to use our new products, like a bespoke automated NHS VAT system, to find additional savings for our NHS partners in the same way that NHS Dudley CCG has benefitted from an extra £40,000 a year. Multiply this by around 250 other commissioners around the country – not to mention hundreds of provider organisations – and we begin to see how one single product has the potential for huge savings across the NHS.

And we aim to introduce technology like ePay, which manages travel, expense and salary claims electronically, more widely across the health service.

Other NHS providers can take advantage of the same time and financial savings we have seen at the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, which expects £150,000 cost savings over the next five years and to eliminate around 12,000 paper forms every year.

These are just a handful of the numerous success stories across the country, where NHS organisations are reaping the rewards from outsourcing some of their non-clinical services.

Going forward

Looking ahead, our strategy for the next three years is focused on growing our core services and launching a range of new and exciting products.

It is up to us to prove to more NHS chief executives, finance directors, heads of procurement and HR directors that shared business services suit today’s NHS, and will help them achieve national efficiency imperatives set by NHS England and NHS Improvement.

This year will see the launch and roll-out of the much-anticipated Edge4Health consumer-style procurement platform, which promises to transform the way NHS hospitals buy goods and services.

Our second digital marketplace, PHBChoices, meanwhile, will continue to grow, as commissioners respond to NHS England’s plan to increase the number of personal health budget (PHB) holders to between 50,000 and 100,000 over the next three years.

The coming 12 months will also see us develop a new absence management tool, exit interview service and recruitment consultancy offer to enable NHS trusts to manage their workforce more effectively, reducing the costs that stem from unfilled vacancies and the current reliance on expensive agency staff.

Meanwhile, NHS finance teams will benefit from an innovative income and receipting tool, which is currently being piloted, and a new planning, budgeting and forecasting solution.

New Year Healthcheck

With so many exciting new initiatives in the pipeline, we are kicking off 2018 by launching a New Year ‘Healthcheck’ for NHS organisations as part of our ‘We Are Transforming’ campaign.

These are free-of-charge, no-obligation taster sessions across our areas of expertise, where those working in the NHS back office can get free advice, or hear about how other organisations have successfully improved their business systems and processes during one-to-one consultations.

The half-hour taster sessions are designed with a ‘no pressure’ and ‘no obligation’ approach, tailored to offer useful hints and tips to those working in NHS finance, procurement and workforce functions.

The initiative is part of a drive by NHS SBS to highlight the innovative ways that NHS organisations can make time and cost savings in the back office, helping them achieve national efficiency targets and move up performance league tables in 2018.

NHS SBS experts are on hand to discuss a range of diverse topics in informal Healthcheck sessions, spanning finance and accounting, procurement, and employment services, all of which are free of charge to those working in NHS organisations.


To arrange a Healthcheck consultation, visit:

Sessions can be booked until the end of February and taken before the end of May.


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