It is common to hear and see stories that document how the National Health Service (NHS) is under extreme pressure and the options being considered to help relieve those pressures. Many are adamant that the NHS should not become privatised, fearing that this would make it too expensive for those with little money and that the service would be compromised.

While this may well be the case, if the departments within the NHS that are responsible for care were to be privatised, does it apply to the organisation en masse? Or, is there a case to be argued for the privatisation of non-user-facing departments like HR?

HR within the NHS is Important

As Europe’s largest employer, there is no doubt that there is a need for HR in the NHS. Approximately 1.5 million people work in the NHS and a significant number of those are employed as HR staff, recruiting, managing and monitoring the performance of others within the organisation.

One of the greatest concerns that is regularly raised from workers “at the chalk face”, however, is that they are under-resourced when it comes to those who have direct contact with patients. Funding is often the reason cited for this, but would a more effective HR structure, one that is independent from the service itself make a difference?

Outsourcing HR

If we look to other industries as a model of what can happen when HR is outsourced, we can see that there is a trend for doing so – the proliferation of companies who now offer HR and payroll services is an effective measure of this.

A growing number of company directors would argue that outsourcing HR leaves them free to focus on what they do best and that it relieves them of the shackles associated with the demands of managing an HR team or department.

There is no doubt that such a transition would be a huge undertaking for the NHS as an organisation, due to its size and complexity, but once completed it may well mean that the NHS becomes more service focused and less bureaucratic.

There are, of course, also dangers and the success of this kind of radical change may hinge upon how the work is put out to tender. Companies who are able to take on the huge responsibility, would have to be contractually bound to operate in a manner that served to enhance the primary concerns of the NHS and not just for profit. It is perhaps possible that here a performance related system of remuneration is adopted – so when the patient wins, the company wins.

Is Change Unavoidable?

With the NHS reported to be at “breaking point”, one thing is very clear and that is that change is needed if the NHS is to continue to provide the unparalleled service it is famous for.

The utopian vision of an NHS that continues to operate without change and at the same time solving the problems it faces, is, it seems, unrealistic. Therefore, change must take place and outsourcing its HR provision must be one of the options to be considered moving forward.

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