The live testing of a new national pay and personnel system for the, was launched on Friday at University Hospital Birmingham by Health Minister, Lord Philip Hunt.

The National Shared Services Initiative’s Electronic Staff Record (ESR) will deliver an integrated human resources and payroll system across England and Wales, replacing the range of outdated systems that NHS employers currently use.

"We are now using live NHS records to test the system, working with University Hospital Birmingham which 60,000 staff records," a spokesperson for the Shared Services Initiative told E-Health Insider.

A total of fifteen NHS pilot sites are then scheduled to begin piloting the system from early 2002, with pilots completed by late spring 2003. This will be followed by a roll out across the NHS in England and Wales over the next two years.

The Department of Health estimates that the integrated HR and payroll system will save the NHS £400 million over ten years.

Lord Hunt said: "This is a vital piece of work in helping to modernise the NHS. ESR will allow the transfer of staff details from one NHS employer to another, cutting red tape, reducing bureaucracy and saving time." Of the 275,000 staff who join the NHS each year, more than 200,000 have transferred from other NHS employers.

Philip Hewitson, Chief Executive of the National Shared Services Initiative said: “The ESR project is progressing well and we are pleased that the move to a live testing phase in an NHS environment marks a real step forward in our task to deliver ESR to the whole of the service.”

The stated aim of the Shared Services Initiative is to take advantage of technological advances to enable the NHS to achieve improvements to quality and value for money in activities such as finance and human resources. A consortium led by McKesson is delivering the contract for ESR. They will implement the Oracle Human Resource Management System (HRMS) product for the NHS.

The consortium consists of: McKesson, as the prime contractor; IBM Business Consulting Services, (formerly PWC Consulting), providing programme implementation, change management and business process re-engineering; Oracle as software provider; and IBM as hardware provider.

The ESR project forms part of the Shared Services Initiative, launched in October 1999 with the aim of exploring opportunities to improve the quality and value for money of non-clinical services. A separate Shared Services Initiative project is underway for Finance and e-Commerce.

In September the Shared Services Initiative was granted permission to become a Special Health Authority. This new legal status will come into effect in spring 2003 when the agency will be known as the NHS Shared Services Authority.