Annual round up by the National Programme Director

Paul SpoonerAs I once again reflect on the year and draft my annual round-up for the December edition of ESR News, it is with great pride that I am able to reference key highlights from what has been an extraordinary year for us all.

First and foremost, I would like to express thanks to all NHS organisations for your continued commitment to embracing the ESR service – as I reference later in this article, growth in ESR usage has been staggering.

I would also like to thank IBM, our technology and service partner, and colleagues within the NHSBSA ESR team, who together, have maintained a high quality service – indeed, possibly more relevant than anytime previously, it is worth reminding ourselves that ESR remains one of the World’s largest and most complex HR Management solutions and service, and this has been successfully delivered under business continuity arrangements since March 2020.

I am delighted to provide a spotlight on…

ESR System Usage

NHS organisations have continued to embrace the functionality within ESR and realise many of the associated efficiency and productivity benefits. We report growth across a range of areas, but two of the key user metrics are:

  • Employee Self-Service usage:
    • The total number of users has increased by 15% - reflecting growth from 1.37m unique users in December 2019 to over 1.57m unique users in November 2020.
    • Monthly usage has increased by 18% - reflecting growth from over 827k unique users per month in December 2019 to over 979k unique users in November 2020.
  • Access to online payslips:
    • Employees who no longer receive a paper payslip has increased by over 67% - reflecting growth from over 1.03m employee payslips in December 2019 to over 1.7m employee payslips in November 2020.

If you haven’t already looked at our helpful resources for switching to online payslips please visit the ESR Hub; additionally, there is a thought provoking video that demonstrates the environmental impact of paper payslips - it’s worth a watch (if I may say so!) and illustrates how individual organisation or employee decisions can have a material impact when we consider the scale of the NHS.

ESR Developments

Consistent with previous years, we have continued to work with policy colleagues and users of the service to enhance the functionality within ESR. In addition to changes made to support the COVID response, a small number of examples include:

  • Developments to the applicant dashboard so as to further support on-boarding – more on this later;
  • Additional automation to the Inter Authority Transfer (IAT) process when a new applicant is created;
  • Conflict of Interest recording and reporting capability (designed in partnership with NHS England/Improvement), and
  • Introducing enhanced interface technologies in the form of Application Programming Interface (APIs), so as to further support system interoperability.

Service Performance

As noted earlier, ESR remains one of the largest and most complex systems of its kind in the World – reflecting both the scale and complexity of the NHS and terms and conditions of service.  

ESR has many Key Performance Indicators, including payment accuracy and payment timeliness – both of which have been consistently achieved throughout the year. Whilst I fully appreciate there have been a small number of system issues and unplanned service unavailability – something that the ESR Service teams work hard to avoid and/or minimise, the overarching achievement of such KPIs in normal working conditions is testament to the hard work and effort that goes in to delivering such a complex service, but when we overlay the unprecedented conditions introduced by COVID, this really is a sterling example of service discipline…and of course, ultimately, this has ensured NHS employees have continued to be paid on time, accurately - as is to be expected.

How NHSBSA supported the NHS during the pandemic

Consistent with many organisations, NHSBSA has been instrumental in stepping up services to support the NHS as we manage the greatest public health challenge in a generation.

Gordon CoyneGordon Coyne, NHSBSA Director of NHS Workforce Services, was asked to lead the NHSX People Cell, in collaboration with colleagues from many partner organisations, to explore how existing or new services could be developed to help the NHS deliver care in the ever-changing and challenging environment. Gordon comments:

Over 25 services were established or enhanced via digital solutions as a result of working together with colleagues from DHSC, NHS E&I, NHSX, NHS Digital, Health Education England and through regional teams supporting the NHS and Adult Social Care workforces, facilitating recruitment, staff engagement, well-being and workforce planning. I hope that the relationships built during this difficult time will enable sustainable improvements to be delivered as we seek to transform our NHSBSA workforce solutions over the next few years.


As the national workforce system for England and Wales it was vital that ESR functionality could help and support Trusts manage some of the workforce related issues. Developments included the provision of enhanced absence reports – both local reporting and relieving the burden on local organisations to submit nationally, to enhancing absence reasons in ESR to record COVID and related data. Many other changes and services were provided to alleviate local pressure, or support national activity – including directly supporting the Nightingale Hospital set-up through the provision of workforce data. Such activity is a great example of how national systems and services can support both a national and local response – whilst helping local organisations focus on the delivery of care.

Recognising the impact of the pandemic on the daily operations of the NHS we launched the ESR COVID-19 Resource Hub in April 2020. This Resource Hub is tailored to support employees, managers and corporate teams with helpful fact sheets and simple step-by-step guides.

To date, the Resource Hub has been accessed over 467k times since its launch, and if you have not already done so, I would encourage you to take a look to see how it might help you.

ESR supporting National Workforce Policy

During the year we have continued to support the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and be a key delivery partner to the NHS England / NHS Improvement Enabling Staff Movement programme.

One area of functionality that is helping Trusts to improve the experience of their staff is the ESR Applicant Dashboard.  This has been a real game changer in some regions, where Trusts have used the dashboard to quickly recruit to large numbers of clinical vacancies during the pandemic.

In September we featured an article in ESR News about how Trusts in the North East and Yorkshire had given applicants early access to the Applicant Dashboard to speed up the induction process, ensuring that new staff had undertaken all the necessary e-Learning before starting work on the wards.  In recent months we have seen continued interest in the Application Dashboard with more Trusts using the functionality. The Applicant Dashboard gives organisations the ability to engage with their applicants at the earliest stage, by enabling applicants to update their personal information and complete any required training before their start date.

As referenced earlier, as part of our work to further support the Enabling Staff Movement programme we have progressed the development of enhanced interface technologies (Application Programming Interfaces – ‘APIs’) to support the Digital Staff Passport project; and have also developed an ESR New Starter Journey for Doctors in Training (DiT).  The New Starter Journey is designed to outline a simple 10-step process for all new starters, describing how to use the ESR solution to its maximum potential, thereby helping organisations provide the best experience for their new starters.


To further streamline this process for DiT we are working in partnership with colleagues in Health Education England to develop a bi-directional interface between ESR and the Training Information System (TIS), providing the ability to seamlessly transfer data.  You can read more about this project in this edition of ESR News and you can access all of our Enabling Staff Movement resources, including a new DiT checklist by visiting

In July NHS England published the ‘We are the NHS: People Plan 2020/21 - action for us all’.  Building on the interim People Plan it sets out actions to support transformation across the whole NHS, with one of the objectives to overhaul recruitment and promotion practices across the NHS. 

By providing functionality that enables staff to easily move from one NHS organisation to another, ESR can support NHS organisations to meet the challenge of having a more mobile, flexible and agile workforce. This supports recruitment for Doctors in Training as well as wider NHS recruitment by:

  • Enabling a more robust new starter process with reduced repeated administration;
  • Enabling employment records to be updated online instead of using paper forms;
  • Having an on-boarding process that is efficient and actively managed; and
  • Having previous training and skills records recognised and transferred.

If you would like to explore how ESR can help you to deliver parts of the NHS People Plan, please read our response to the NHS People Plan paper or talk to your Regional Functional Account Manager.

Future Planning…Transformation of ESR Services  

The ESR Service has been in operation since 2004, with all organisations having implemented by April 2008. ESR remains critical to the delivery of NHS Pay and HR management and policy. Following a recent technology and application review – including market feedback, a strategy has been agreed that enables a programme of transformation discovery to be completed. In order to deliver this programme, the ESR service contract with IBM has recently been extended to August-2025, so as to safeguard the ESR service whilst we undertake the following:

  • ESR Discovery – this discovery project will assess the ongoing and future needs of the ESR service. Planned to start in late January 2021 and run for circa 12-16 weeks, this discovery will seek user and stakeholder feedback so as to provide a baseline of requirements to take forward.
  • Alpha and Beta stages – using the discovery findings, an assessment of technology and application options will be undertaken. Planned to start in spring 2021 and be completed no later than summer 2022, this activity will seek to identify a best fit solution that meets the needs of the NHS and emerging integrated care policies.
  • Service Commission – depending on the outcome of the Alpha and Beta stages, a period of two-years has been planned, from summer 2022 to summer 2024 to ensure all contracts are in place to enable planning for the transition and transformation of service by August 2025 and beyond.

In addition, you may be aware that NHS England/ NHS Improvement are in the process of progressing an ‘Integrated ERP Discovery’ – exploring opportunities and benefits of having greater integration between HR and Finance systems. NHSBSA is supporting this review, and the findings (due to report early 2021) may also inform the ESR Discovery and future service requirements.

At this stage, we do not know what solution or solutions will be identified as most suitable and therefore detailed activity beyond 2024 is yet to be confirmed. However, there remains a clear commitment to the delivery of service that best meets user and policy needs. To this end, ESR will continue to be developed and we look forward to working with users of the service and policy colleagues to identify and maximise solution requirements and developments. 

Thanks and Best Wishes…

Finally, I hope that you find this December edition of ESR News interesting and on behalf of the NHSBSA and the ESR Service teams, may I express our thanks for all of your support throughout 2020, and wish you a Merry Christmas and offer Best Wishes for a healthy and happy 2021.

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