Programme news

Update from the National ESR Director

Paul Spooner

As I reflect on 2021, I am proud to recognise the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues across the health and care systems who have demonstrated not only great strength of character and determination, but also a real passion for the National Health Service and its patients and service users. Thank you!

It has been another very busy year for us in the ESR service team.  I appreciate that across the NHS, operational challenges continue to impact local capacity to progress large scale implementations - but it has been another very successful year in terms of service growth. I would like to extend my thanks to all NHS organisations for your continued support to maximise your use of ESR.

I would also like to thank IBM, our technology and service partner, and colleagues within the NHSBSA ESR service team, who together have maintained a high-quality service. I regularly reference ESR as being one of the World’s largest and most complex HR Management solutions and service, and that fact remains – adding a unique context to the service delivery achievements. Ensuring service stability and security remains, and will continue to be, our highest priority.

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 - growth from over 1.57m unique users in November 2020 to 1.74m unique users in November 2021.
  • Access to online payslips:
    • Employees who have opted to receive an online payslip - growth from over 1.7m employee online payslips in November 2020 to over 2m employee online payslips in November 2021.

Whilst 2m employees’ accessing their payslip online is a remarkable milestone and achievement, there is more work that can be done.  In September 2021, circa 55k employees that received a paper payslip also viewed their online version – essentially, 55k paper payslips that need not have been printed across the NHS. Notwithstanding the operational efficiencies and security advantages of online payslip access, in the year that COP26 came to the UK to agree actions to address the global climate emergency, it has never been more important to examine how you can make positive changes in your organisation, and collectively by us all across the NHS. Moving to online payslips is a small step – offering significant benefits.

Our regional teams are currently supporting several ESR Leads with their plans to make the switch and turn off paper payslips.  If your organisation has not moved to online payslips, there is a range of helpful resources available on the ESR Hub and you can get support from your Functional Account Manager.

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 delivering the service in business continuity arrangements this demonstrates exemplary service discipline…and of course, ultimately, this has supported your payroll and HR teams to ensure NHS employees have continued to be paid on time and accurately.

ESR Developments – supporting user needs and national workforce policy

Consistent with previous years, we have continued to work with policy colleagues and users of the service to enhance the functionality within ESR.

The ESR development pipeline is influenced by many sources – broadly, legislation, workforce policy and user-led requirements. I would like to thank service users and stakeholders for their continued support to developing ESR – an article within this edition of ESR News highlights the significant levels of change that have been released during 2021, directly supported and influenced by users of the service and policy colleagues.

With system releases scheduled every month (and as required for urgent change), the ESR service has remained flexible and agile to deliver change. However, as a service team, we do recognise feedback asking for some change to be delivered quicker. We continually challenge ourselves to deliver change safely, and as fast as we are able to do so – taking in to account competing priorities, scale of change and ultimately through a lens of minimising the risk of change having a negative impact on the service and user experience.

Future Planning…Transformation of ESR Services

In June 2021 we provided a progress update via ESR News on the ESR Transformation programme. A lot of work has progressed in the 6-months since that update, with the team successfully completing Discovery phases 1 and 2 - including engagement with users and stakeholders to understand what works well, what doesn’t work well and opportunities in the current service and ensuring alignment to strategic workforce policies and needs.

An output from this work has been a Future State Vision for the NHS Workforce Management solution.  The team are now mobilising Discovery phase 3 which involves further user and stakeholder engagement to help shape the functional specification for the future solution - in this edition of ESR News you can read a full update from the ESR Transformation team. 

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 team, may I express our thanks for all of your support throughout 2021, and wish you a Merry Christmas and offer Best Wishes for a healthy and happy 2022.

ESR Developments to improve user experience and meet the priorities of the NHS

It has been another busy year for ESR development, with 56 changes introduced into the solution, as well as pay awards and legislative changes.

Work is progressing for the final development release of 2021 (scheduled for 31st December), and we thought it would be timely to reflect on some of the highlights for this year:

  • Updated ESR password criteria making it easier for users to create strong and memorable passwords.
  • Updates to the exit interview questionnaire in ESR following collaboration with colleagues at NHS England/NHS Improvement and NHS Wales.
  • The ability for supervisors to add supplementary roles to staff records using Self Service, with a read-only view for employee Self Service users.
  • Improvements to the ESR Portal navigation.
  • Introduction of process to automatically reassess new starters and assignments with certain pay affecting changes and ensure they are allocated to the appropriate pension band.
  • Employees can now view and download their last three Payslips per assignment through the My Payslip and P60 portlet.
  • A new portlet enabling employees to enter or update their bank account details.
  • Opt in to receive an email advising employees when their latest payslip is available to view online.

Our thanks go out to all users and stakeholders that have continued to support the requirements identification, gathering and definition – ensuring our pipeline of change continues to reflect user and policy needs.

All of the changes introduced in to ESR can be found in the Guide to Enhancement and Changes which accompany each release, which you can find on the ESR Hub.

Welsh Language and ESR Release 52

December 2021 is another major release for ESR and will contain one of the largest pieces of work we have done this year, providing the option for users to view the My ESR portal in Welsh.

In addition, there are also upgrades and fixes to the Oracle software alongside the implementation of the annual Oracle roll-up patch (‘RUP’), which includes the ability to search the notification worklist.

Working Collaboratively

The NHSBSA ESR team has continued to work closely with colleagues across the NHS to deliver system changes in support of shared objectives. As an example, working collaboratively with NHS England and NHS Improvement, NHS Wales and NHSBSA we have updated the questions in the Exit Questionnaire. Utilising questions from the NHS Staff Survey, as well as additional new questions and an opportunity for staff to self-report their reason for leaving, the data from responses can then be utilised at organisation and system level to support retention planning, which is a key element of the NHS People Plan 2020/21.

If you are not yet using the exit questionnaire in ESR to support your retention planning, please get in touch with your ESR Functional Account Manager for more information and guidance.

ESR Portal Improvements

The process of continuous improvements to support usability and business needs has been maintained throughout the last year, with some key additions.

The layout of the ESR Portal has been updated to improve visibility of the different Dashboards to which users have access. Although quite a small change it has delivered a more intuitive approach to navigation and access to other functional areas.

We have also been working to improve the range of portlets available on the My ESR Dashboard, to ensure that users have timely access to the right information. Changes this year include improvements to the My Payslip and P60 portlet - where users can now view and download their last three payslips in addition to their current one.  We have also introduced a new email option to inform employees when their payslip is available to view online and encourage organisations to make the payslip available in ESR in advance of pay day.

Process Improvements

Engaging and supporting our users remains a key priority to the success of ESR, and we continue to rely on the feedback and change requests to improve usability and efficiency.  Through this process we have introduced enhancements to all aspects of the system for both Self Service and Professional users.

The ability to setup and maintain Supplementary Roles can now be done using any of the Manager, Supervisor or Administrator responsibilities.

A major development to reduce processing and administrative time spent assessing in-year pension bandings was introduced in April of this year. The new process has been included as part of the payroll run to automatically reassess new starters and assignments with certain pay affecting changes to ensure they are allocated to the appropriate pension band. The following Processes have been updated with the new parameter:

    • NHS Payroll Run (Monthly)
    • NHS Payroll Run (Weekly)
    • NHS Payroll Run (Fortnightly)
    • NHS Payroll Run (Lunar)

Looking Ahead

Next year promises to be equally busy through what are also likely to be challenging times facing the NHS.  As always, our focus will be on ensuring we respond to these challenges and continue to deliver a first-class solution with increased efficiencies to help the NHS workforce.

Development for ESR in 2022 includes further changes to support the requirement of the Flowers case and updates to pension functionality to reflect the requirements of the McCloud outcome. In addition, a key aspect of our plans for change in 2022 includes the development of further APIs for improved interoperability with other strategic and operational systems.

ESR Exit Questionnaire – help to build your workforce retention plans

Having access to good quality data on the reasons why your staff are choosing to leave your organisation can be key to your local retention plans.’  NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Looking After Our People - Retention Programme has worked with NHSBSA Workforce Directorate colleagues, the ESR team and NHS Wales to update the ESR exit questionnaire to include new questions, which align to the annual NHS Staff Survey and to allow staff an opportunity to self-report their reason for leaving. There is also a free text box to allow staff to confirm what (if anything) would have made them stay.

How it works

This functionality is available for any organisation using ESR Self Service.  Once the functionality is switched on by the organisation, the employee receives an ESR notification inviting them to complete the exit questionnaire as soon as a termination date has been entered into ESR. The questionnaire doesn’t have to be completed on a work PC or laptop - it can be completed at home once they have logged into ESR on their own device.

Data from the responses can then be used at organisation and system level to support local retention planning. 

Your organisation will be able to use the results of the survey to improve local working conditions and practices and to increase involvement and engagement with staff. Other organisations, including NHS England and NHS Improvement or NHS Wales for those employed in Wales, will make use of the non-identifiable and nationally aggregated results.

Once the answers have been submitted, HR professionals are able to access the reports via the ESR Business Intelligence dashboard. 

To help the NHSBSA ESR Team understand the impact of these new questions and how organisations might use the new exit questionnaire, a survey has been sent to all NHS organisations asking ESR Leads and Deputy HRD’s for their feedback about the ESR exit questionnaire and their current use of the functionality.  The results of this survey will help us to better support organisations going forward and identify any additional requirements that may assist the development of local retention plans.

If you would like more information about the ESR exit questionnaire, or guidance about how to begin using this functionality please contact your ESR Regional Functional Account

If you want more information about the ESR exit questionnaire, or guidance about how to begin using this functionality please contact your ESR Regional Functional Account Manager. There is also more information on understanding data on NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Retention Hub and further information available in their FAQs.

ESR Transformation Programme update

In our previous update in June we referenced the Discovery work that started in January 2021, led by NHSBSA and working with the NHS to understand how the future NHS workforce solution could meet the needs of NHS workforce policy, organisations and its employees. This culminated in a ‘Future State Vision’ being defined.

Over the summer we validated the Discovery findings with NHS strategic stakeholder groups, such as the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England & Improvement, NHS Wales, Health Education England, and others.  It was essential that we aligned the vision of the future NHS Workforce solution with current and emerging national policies and programmes – whilst meeting organisation and user needs.

At the same time, we began engaging with the supplier market to give us insight into how the market might respond to the proposals outlined within the Future State Vision.  This was a positive step in the process with great feedback received, which has helped us further refine our approaches to the Transformation Programme work.

The next phase of the Programme will involve completing a significant number of activities needed to help shape the procurement of the future solution, which is expected to start in summer 2022. This will include further refinement and validation of the user and business needs for the future NHS Workforce Solution.

From the start of this programme, we have been committed to engaging with users and stakeholders to inform the future solution.  In late November we commenced the Discovery 3.0 phase. This involves the team working with a wide range of ESR SMEs across the regions to help us further analyse the following functional areas:

  • Talent Acquisition,
  • Career Development, Performance Management,
  • Core HR,
  • Learning,
  • Compensation and Benefits (Total Rewards, Pensions, Salary Sacrifice),
  • Time Tracking and Payroll, and
  • Service Management (System Intelligence, Security, Interoperability, Reporting).

Focus groups and workshops will be starting in early January 2022, and ultimately this will help us get a detailed understanding of user needs for the future solution. Invitations to take part in the Discovery 3.0 phase have been extended to ESR Leads and colleagues in organisations across England and Wales. If you would like to be involved, please contact us via email at (please copy your Senior Account Manager into the email).

On behalf of the ESR Transformation Programme Team we would like to extend our thanks to everyone who has taken part in the programme so far – fully appreciating how precious time is. We are grateful for your continued support.

We will be keeping you updated via future editions of ESR News and other communication channels as we progress through Discovery 3.0 into the procurement phase, but if in the meantime you have any questions about the programme please contact us directly at


Improving the Mandatory E-learning Experience for our Employees and Customers

Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit (MLCSU) supports 22 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across a wide geographical footprint covering Cheshire and Merseyside, Lancashire and South Cumbria, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and Leicestershire. They provide ESR support for their NHS clients as well as supporting MLSCU with ESR Learning Management (ESRLM), particularly statutory and mandatory e-Learning.

The CSU and all its clients previously used ESRLM for mandatory e-Learning until 2016/17 when they moved to a third-party solution that was used at the time by the North West CSU and Cheshire & Merseyside CCG; these Organisations later became part of the MLCSU footprint.

With the changes to managing pay progression being implemented, the CSU made the decision to have learning compliance and appraisals available within ESRLM, and visible through Employee Self Service and Supervisor Self Service. Their contract for the third-party system was coming to an end in April 2019 so having evaluated ESRLM they decided not to renew the third-party contract, and in fact move back to ESRLM; a decision made easier because of the considerable development that ESRLM had undergone and the benefits of having the learning integrated to ESR Self Service outstripped any perceived benefits of the third-party system.

Stephen Griffin, Workforce Information and Systems Lead with MLSCU was responsible for the implementation of ESRLM.  Commenting on the Implementation, Stephen said:

Whilst running some ESR overview sessions with Liverpool CCG pre-Covid-19, it became apparent that one of the biggest frustration’s users had was issues with their competency not being updated when they passed a course. They had been using the My E-learning portlet to access their mandatory e-Learning which was prominent on the My ESR Dashboard.

We explained that the system was configured in a way that the course needed to be completed from within the corresponding Learning Certification to obtain the competency and we demonstrated playing e-Learning via the My Compliance portlet. At this point we had a ‘light bulb’ moment with employees that had been having problems with getting compliant with mandatory e-Learning.

Whilst still on site we moved the My E-Learning portlet to a far less prominent position on the My ESR Dashboard and moved the My Compliance portlet to a more prominent position on the dashboard. We did consider removing the My E-Learning portlet, but it was felt this was a good place to access any non-mandatory courses employees had enrolled on.

Following the site visit with Liverpool CCG a video was created, using an app call Screencast-O-Matic, and this was then sent to Liverpool CCG to be hosted on their intranet. Over the following months the team shared the video with their clients to help with employees who experienced similar issues with competencies.

Stephen went on to say:  

I attended a Webinar that the NHSBSA ESR North Regional Team was hosting about the Applicant Dashboard and there was a brief demonstration of Web Content Portlets. After seeing this I thought it would be a great way to make our video guidance available directly from the My ESR Dashboard. With the help of a few Google searches, I created a YouTube Channel and uploaded the Video and then created a Web Content Portlet with the video embedded.

Whilst there are lots of factors that drive the compliance rates up, this has certainly had a positive impact and removed a lot of frustration for people once they access mandatory e-Learning via this route.

We have now started to replace all of our Learning Certifications to improve the experience further, as when we originally launched ESRLM we used some older guidance that recommended a 60-day renewal period and Learner must complete this certification in 30 days. The replacements are being configured with the recommended 90-day renewal period and the Learner must complete this certification in 90 days. This means they can renew their compliance as soon as the competency goes amber on their Learner Homepage.

A combination of all the above has no doubt led to improvements in learning compliance across our partner organisations.

Midlands and Lancashire CSU are now planning to include these Portlets on the ESR Applicant Dashboard.

For further information or to ask any questions about the implementation of ESR Learning Management please contact Stephen Griffin, Workforce Information & Systems Lead, Employment Services Midlands and Lancashire Clinical Support Unit.

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