The days of ward managers steeling themselves to work out staff rosters using pencils, paper and a large eraser may be numbered, according to Manpower Software which claims savings of £500,000 a year at two NHS trusts using its electronic rostering solution.

A report published earlier this month by the National Audit Office on improving the use of temporary nursing staff in acute and foundation trusts found that few had invested in electronic systems to help them plan staff rotas, despite a previous recommendation along these lines in 2001.

Manpower Software says that two trusts that have adopted electronic systems – Bedford Hospital and North Tees & Hartlepool – are making £500,000 per year savings using its system.

The company’s NHS director, Ian Bacon, told E-Health Insider: “Essentially it’s a rostering tool that allows trusts to get the right people in the right place at the right time. What it allows trusts to do is understand the number and the skills of staff needed to deliver the required care.”

He said it had been useful in helping trusts to implement initiatives such as the Hospital at Night where skills are shared across several wards during the night shifts.

The key benefit, however, is cost saving through better management of permanent staff and a reduction in agency staff.

Bacon says one trust was able to save on average about 1.3 whole time equivalent staff per ward which translates into about £40,000 per ward each year. The savings flow from more efficient rosters which often show, for example, that permanent staff have underworked, perhaps by 30 or 40 hours a year.

Other benefits include being able to feed in information about staff preferences for shifts and the objectivity of the process eliminates resentments about favoured staff getting their preferred shifts.

“The feedback we get from nurses is wonderful because they are getting a fairer roster,” Bacon said.

“It’s not just about rostering – it’s about really getting the skills match right and the management reporting right,” he added. Data from electronic rosters can be imported into other programs for staff records or payroll, though not in real time.

With more staff, such as junior doctors, moving to shift working, Manpower Software has developed electronic rostering models for other workers. However, Bacon adds: “The main drive on cost reduction is on the overheads for nursing.”