Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Genuine Partnership Working Between Employers and Trade Unions - Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)

When all NHS IT and information systems delivery functions were brought together into the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) in 2013, over 2,000 staff from 13 different organisations transferred in.

Initially, a Shadow Partnership Forum was established to consult on the transfer of the staff and the harmonisation of some 500 employment policies from the 13 organisations. This forum evolved into the de facto Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee (JNCC), continuing the excellent work on establishing a meaningful employer/Trades Union relationship for the benefit of the organisation and its staff. It had support and commitment from national as well as local union reps and employers.

The Shadow Partnership Forum was set up in October 2012 with a remit to:

  • consult and work in partnership through the relevant people transition issues on behalf of the future HSCIC
  • meet monthly and, once HSCIC was formally established on 1 April 2013, continue to meet pending the establishment of a formal JNCC (which happened in June 2013)
  • agree arrangements for function and staff transfers ensuring that the overall people transition activity was progressing in line with nationally agreed policies and processes
  • focus on the development and agreement of harmonised employment policies for use by the new HSCIC.

The ongoing, meaningful partnership working throughout the shadow stage of the organisation and into the establishment of HSCIC, not only resulted in a smooth people transition for around 2,000 staff, but also led to the formal agreement of 20 harmonised people policies for the new organisation by September 2013. This required the review of some 500 legacy policies.

Assigned HR leads and TU leads worked together to produce drafts of each of the 20 priority policies based on best practice as well as the legacy provisions. This involved: 

  • creating a shared portal to facilitate review by management and TU colleagues
  • holding specific policy review sessions for staff and management side to highlight changes, differences and points for consideration
  • developing a two-stage consultation process (review by the Shadow Partnership Forum and then wider consultation on policies with TU members with a final policy draft recommended to JNCC for approval).

These policies are now in operation supported by a line management development programme, initially concentrating on training and developing managers in the effective deployment of the policies.

The challenge of developing and maintaining meaningful partnership working across 13 organisations in 19 geographical locations cannot be underestimated but, wherever possible and at key stages in the process, Trade Unions and management were brought together at face-to-face meetings.

Additional video conferencing, regular phone calls and ‘sub group’ working on specific policies all contributed both to the process and the development of trust. In turn, this enabled constructive challenge to be brought to the discussions and to become the norm within healthy working relationships.

Rachael Allsop, HSCIC Director of HR, who oversaw this transformation, said: “Regular, open and transparent discussions greatly helped with this process as did clarity on the agenda and processes that were being pursued.  The involvement of national officers at a local level was particularly beneficial in terms of the development of constructive working relationships.”

She added: “A commitment to partnership working at Board level amongst the HSCIC management team and within the TUs recognised by the HSCIC, enabled by the use of facility time for TU representatives, was also vital to the success of this work.”

The threefold challenges of scale, complexity and geography were overcome by:

  • seeking to understand each party’s issues and concerns before determining common goals
  • recognising and harnessing expertise that existed across key stakeholders
  • strong leadership from management, staff side and national officers
  • huge commitment from all members of the Partnership Forum to work collaboratively
  • effective project management seeking continually to improve the process
  • agreeing key principles up-front e.g. harmonising “upwards” wherever possible
  • transparency from management and willingness to negotiate challenging points

HSCIC believes its approach to partnership working through this project has reinforced the importance and added value of genuine consultation and engagement within organisations in pursuit of organisational aims. It has provided the HSCIC with a solid platform from which to continue to progress the importance of people policies and that ethos within the organisation.

For more information please contact:

Rachael Allsop, Director of HR and Transformation, Health and Social Care Information Centre: r.allsop@hscic.gov.uk