NHS Scotland a role model for reform, says study

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01 Feb 2012 15:11:27.857
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The NHS in England may be in turmoil, but a major new academic study claims its Scottish equivalent should serve as a role model for the public sector.

According to the findings of a two-year report, post-devolution healthcare in Scotland represents a “groundbreaking” approach to the art of industrial relations.

It has taken “arguably the most ambitious labour-management partnership so far attempted in the UK public sector” and made it work, say experts south of the border.
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Academics from Nottingham University Business School studied the workings of NHS Scotland in an effort to enhance understanding of partnership agreements.

In recent years such arrangements have come to cover around a third of all public sector employees across Britain, some 1.5m of them working in the NHS.

After devolution the NHS in England increased its reliance on a market-based approach — now one of the various controversies surrounding its future direction.

By contrast, NHS Scotland set about developing partnership agreements at national and board level as part of a strategy to engage staff in improving services.

Distinct and novel

The result, according to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is an “incredible common agenda” among interested parties from all quarters.

Research co-author Dr Peter Samuel said: “Although partnerships are found elsewhere in the public sector, NHS Scotland’s stands out as distinct and novel. It has survived for over a decade, defying reorganisation and changes in administrations, and it can offer valuable lessons in how to improve industrial relations.

“Anyone wanting to understand how government, employers and staff should work together to deal with strategic and organisational challenges can learn from it.”

The study examined the frequency, scope, behaviour and “voice” of meetings involving various forums associated with NHS Scotland’s partnership agreements.

Chief among these were the Scottish Workforce and Staff Governance Committee (SWAG) and the Scottish Partnership Forum and Secretariat (SPF).

Industrial democracy

 As well as attending many forums in person, researchers painstakingly analysed the published minutes from scores of meetings held between 1999 and 2009.

The study praises the way NHS Scotland separates broad-ranging debates over strategic issues from detailed discussions over specific workplace policies. It also highlights the lack of repetition — the SPF addressed more than 133 topics in a decade — and the near-absence of a “We’ve heard all this before” mentality.

Dr Samuel said: “The policymakers of NHS Scotland clearly concluded the only way to deliver better healthcare was to improve the way staff were engaged. This led to the establishment of various structures at national and local levels to give staff more say in decisions affecting their working lives and healthcare provision.

“NHS Scotland has even passed into law a ‘staff governance code’ that compels all its health boards to engage and involve staff and their representatives.

“This innovation in industrial relations is arguably one of the biggest examples of industrial democracy to be found anywhere in the world — and they have made it work.”

Nottingham University Business School is an acknowledged leader in teaching and research in the fields of sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr Samuel carried out the study with Professor Nick Bacon, a fellow expert in human resources management, with the full co-operation of NHS Scotland officials.

Sharing a common agenda

The pair also examined the workings of NHS Wales, whose own approach currently sits between Scotland’s and England’s but is moving closer to the former.

Dr Samuel said: “Our research suggests NHS Scotland and NHS Wales are well placed to cope with the harsh realities of any future squeeze on the public purse. NHS Scotland in particular has a mutual commitment to improving patient care and staff involvement, with everyone sharing an incredible common agenda.

“On the other hand, the future for industrial relations in public sector organisations that choose to pursue purely market-based reforms might prove stormy.

“But it’s still not too late for public service managers and staff representatives to start building a meaningful dialogue around improvement rather than downsizing.”

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011, a league table of the most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit: www.nottingham.ac.uk/impactcampaign 

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Award for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research on global food security.

More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news 

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Peter Samuel, on +44 (0)115 846 6408, peter.samuel@nottingham.ac.uk

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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