The NHS’s Electronic Staff Record is due to complete its national implementation this month, with over 600 NHS organisations across England and Wales live with the centralised national human resources system.

When fully operational, the system will hold the details of almost 1.3m NHS staff members, replacing 28 core payroll systems, and 67 legacy human resource systems.

The completion of the project roll-out will occur seven years after the project was first conceived, and three years after its original intended completion date.

First announced in 2001 the DH said the combined HR and payroll system would save the NHS £400m over ten years.

Deployments have been taking place every other month since March 2006, following a project re-set to ensure the core systems were fit for purpose. These took place in a series of waves covering around 50 organisations each time.

The Department of Health’s ESR programme director, Simon Willcock, told E-Health Insider: “In the early phase of the project our priority was to ensure that the ESR application was fit for purpose before it was deployed in any NHS organisations. The attention paid to this delayed the start of implementation and the project was reset to reflect this. Since then the ESR implementation has remained on plan.

“The core system implementation has been a success, but there is still a lot more to do to ensure it beds in and has maximum functionality. It’s a great credit to this project that it will have been completed on target and on time, and now we are working towards our next target for all workforce information to be derived from the system by April 2009.”

ESR is delivered by prime contractor McKesson, and uses IBM hardware and Oracle’s payroll and human resources management systems.

Currently in use by 556 organisations and holding records on 1.12m members of staff, all organisations that go live on ESR must do so using Recruitment, Core HR and Payroll functionality. By the end of this month, the remaining 44 sites will switch to this system and all NHS sites in England and Wales will hold data on the ESR system, with extracts from ESR able to populate to a separate Data Warehouse that is used for national and regional reporting.

Following completion of core implementations at the end of this month, Willcock says encouraging organisations to use further functionality on the system is the next big step.

“All trusts are using ESR for HR and payroll and the next steps in the programme will be encouraging trusts to use other functionality of the system such as learning management tools – for example self-service training and e-learning is available on the system.

Willcock acknowledged problems but said they were being worked on: “There are a few wrinkles we need to address, for example reporting, and we are working hard to iron these out. We have a national user group structure, who have a role to feedback to us on improvements users need, which we work on.

“In exchange, we ask that they ensure best practice is going on – 50% of the development budget is given to the user group. We need to continue to work to ensure that ESR is the world class project we say it is.”

Existing learning management functionality in ESR will be extended to provide e-learning capability. This will be achieved through the National Learning Management System (NLMS) project and will make eLearning available to all NHS employees in England with a staff record on ESR.

Further work is under way to link the ESR to CfH’s registration system for smartcard access, ensuring role-based access controls are operational and removing access when a member of staff leaves the NHS.

Willcock explained the new features should come later this year: “The link will tell the CfH system when employees have changed job status and need smartcard access granted or revoked.”

He stressed the ESR system was secure: “Data is segregated on an organisation by organisation basis, preventing any other organisations looking at data from others. We have set user responsibility profiles centrally, which users have to meet to define their access rights to the system, and there can be no overlapping of roles so someone is always identified.”

The ESR programme boss added: “As a refinement, we have further restrictions that can be applied limiting what they see, which are locally defined and administered centrally.”

ESR will undergo an Office of Government Commerce "Gateway Five" review at the end of the year, which will determine whether the desired benefits of the project are being achieved, and the business changes are operating smoothly.

Willcock says he is confident this will be favorable on the system, and within two years all organisations will be realising all the benefits the system has to offer.

For EHI’s full interview with Simon Willcock, see the Comment and Analysis section next week.