NHS Scotland is “leading example” of effective partnership working

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By a Newsnet reporter

A major new report into the NHS in Scotland, carried out by Nottingham University, says that NHS Scotland offers a “leading example” of how public sector industrial relations can help improve service delivery.  The report says that the partnership working between government, employers and staff representatives in NHS Scotland is “unique” and “the most ambitious and important innovation in British public sector relations”.

The study was authored by Dr Peter Samuel and Prof Nick Bacon of Nottingham University Business School.  The report, titled Partnership in NHS Scotland 1999-2011 examined how innovative industrial relations can help improve service delivery.  The reseachers found that NHS Scotland’s decision to engage staff as fully as possible by developing partnership agreements at national and board level is key to its success.  The result of this approach is that all levels of the organisation have a common agenda that helps deliver better healthcare.

Dr Samuel said:  “Effective partnership working requires the development of a shared aim and an agreed approach on the way forward.

“Partnership in the NHS in England and Wales is also built on a shared commitment to high-quality patient care, but partnership in NHS Scotland is unique.

“That’s because from an early stage it was also based on a strong consensus over the organisational structure that would best deliver the NHS’s founding principles.

“This involved a move away from most of the market-based reforms introduced from the 1980s onwards – reforms the NHS in England continues to pursue.”

The authors praise the way NHS Scotland separates broad-ranging debates over strategic issues from more detailed talks over individual workplace policies.

The opportunity for staff representatives to add their voices to top-level meetings and so allow for “a broad range of views” is also highlighted by the study.  Between 1999 and 2011, for example, the SPF heard from 180 contributors – 99 representing government, 37 representing staff and 28 representing employers.

Dr Samuel added: “NHS Scotland clearly believes the best way to deliver better healthcare is to improve how staff are engaged.  Employers and the Scottish government have fostered staff representatives’ commitment to health policies and organisational restructuring to improve patient care.   As a result, in our view, partnership in NHS Scotland has grown into probably the most ambitious and important contemporary innovation in British public sector relations.”

Scottish Heath Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “In Scotland we are determined to protect the founding principles of the National Health Service.  That is the only way to ensure that patients receive the very best quality care.

“In NHS Scotland the unique nature of partnership working, where trade unions and professional organisations, employers and the Scottish Government work closely together, means that staff are very involved in improving patient services.  This is a benefit to patients and staff alike and I am pleased this report recommends that other health organisations should learn lessons from the way NHS Scotland works.  This report underlines the success of this industrial relations model and leaves NHS Scotland well placed to tackle the many challenges facing it today and in the future.”

A pdf of the report is available here.