Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Breaking Tradition - A new approach to handling disciplinaries - University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Management and trade unions at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust worked in partnership to improve their disciplinary process for the benefit of staff, management and ultimately patients.

The challenge

A review of HR key performance indicators recorded the average length of disciplinary cases at over 20 weeks. This was considered unacceptable and in need of a radical overhaul. A review of the process indicated the main issues related to:

  • the process being too rigid and formal
  • the availability of parties to the process
  • the time needed to write up interview notes and collate investigation reports.

Staff involved in the disciplinary process often went off on sick leave during the process because it took so long and the stress of the delays made them ill.

The project

In response to the challenge, management and staff side working in partnership developed a new ‘fast track’ disciplinary process. The new process was piloted and implemented for low level disciplinaries (final written warning and below), and where an employee admits to the allegations and takes responsibility for their actions.

Under the new process, once an allegation has been made, the individual and witnesses are asked for their response to the allegation in a statement. Where interviews need to take place, they are recorded rather than transcribed, with an encrypted CD of the interview available on request.

The HR Advisor then meets with a senior manager, and based on the information received, they propose a sanction. This sanction is offered, usually via the union representative, to the employee who will either, accept, reject, or negotiate a lower sanction. Recommendations such as further training can also be put forward at this point. In practice, it can be the union representative who approaches management with a suggested sanction.

If the sanction is agreed, a meeting is arranged with the operational manager, a HR Advisor and the employee accompanied by a union representative, and the sanction is given. The employee has the opportunity to inform the operational manager of their version of the events, but this doesn’t necessarily change the sanction. The employee is also counselled at this meeting. A letter is placed on file with the sanction, plus a synopsis of the case and any recommendations.

The individual reserves the right to appeal against the sanction. If the individual rejects the offer and an alternative sanction can not be negotiated, then the matter proceeds to a disciplinary hearing, which follows the normal process.

 What has been achieved

The fast track process has had a significant impact on HR key performance indicators with the length of cases, on average, halving from 20 weeks to 10 weeks. Some cases take even less time with the shortest case in 2014 taking just three days.

Before the process was initiated, 75 per cent of all cases went to a formal hearing, with the new process only 25 per cent of cases go to a formal hearing. This has significantly reduced the amount of time invested by managers, HR staff and staff side in the preparation of cases and attending hearings. The trust has also seen zero appeals against the level of sanction, which again has reduced the time and effort that can be better spent on patient care.

The fast track process has been used since 2012 and there is no desire to revert to  ‘traditional’ methods. Staff and managers alike view the process much more positively as it is quicker and less stressful for all parties.

There is huge opportunity for transferability of the process to other trusts with many organisations having already done just this.

For further information please contact:

Suzanne Hartshorne, deputy director of HR:

Tel: 0121 371 7601