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The Limitations of Individual Job Planning – Why Demand-Based Planning is Essential for the NHS

Without asking critical questions such as what are we trying to achieve? What impact does this process have on our core services and how does this improve patient outcomes? We can focus all of our efforts in the wrong direction. Improving the mechanisms we use to complete individual job plans, feels like the wrong direction. I want to be clear, as a co-founder of a company that delivers Job Planning systems, it seems a little odd that I am writing an article about the futility and limitations of individual job planning. Of course, I would love Trusts to buy our system, and yes I truly believe it will make the process better, but what purpose does this process have in isolation? Will buying a shiny new system or implementing new training actually address the core problem? Which is, does our capacity planning match our demand?

The issue with individual job planning is: isolation

Individual job planning is a critical component in managing the workforce within the NHS and I am not saying we should get rid of it. However, when executed in isolation, without considering demand requirements and ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time, it falls short as a solution to the current pressures on the NHS. Individual job planning, as stated, focuses on the individual (and sometimes groups of individuals) allocating their time to tasks and responsibilities based on their expertise and availability. Alone it is insufficient in addressing the fluctuating and dynamic nature of patient demand and future trends.

The result of this approach can lead to inadequate resource allocation, leaving some departments overburdened and others underutilised. This imbalance contributes to increased waiting times, inefficient service delivery, and, ultimately, diminished patient outcomes. Which is soul-destroying for those working hard day to day to do the best job they can.

Over the last decade, we have worked with numerous trust’s helping them to iterate systems, make them easier, support doctors to complete complicated job plans, and where we can alleviate the pressure in our own way. But one nagging question always comes to mind, and as my colleague Chris puts it, Your Trust achieves 100% job plan compliance – what’s next? It is fair to say that over the last 20 years, the drive to engage and improve job planning compliance has not had the positive impact it should have.

Demand-based planning: the key to addressing NHS pressures

To effectively tackle the current pressures on the NHS, there is a need for a more comprehensive, demand-based approach to workforce planning. By doing this, healthcare organisations can better understand the need and allocate resources accordingly, optimise workforce capacity, and improve patient outcomes. Demand-based planning involves analysing historical and real-time data on patient needs, assessing trends, and service utilisation. This information is then used to inform individual job plans, ensuring that healthcare professionals are deployed where they are needed most and that their skills and expertise are optimally utilised.

The benefits of a demand-based approach:
  • Improved resource allocation
  • Reduced waiting times
  • Enhanced patient outcomes
  • Better staff satisfaction
  • Cost-effective workforce management
  • Evidence-based recruitment

Using a demand-model as your starting point is the key, allocating resources without understanding this strays into the best-guess territory. But once you know your demand model and can compare it to your current capacity it allows you to do a number of things that you could not before:

  • Undertake an evidence-based gap analysis - identify needs;
  • Explore service redesign to match the demand requirements;
  • Put the patient at the centre of your planning process;
  • Engage clinicians in the whole process, not just the administrative part;
  • Understand the impact on patients if you do not have adequate capacity;
  • Support evidence-based business cases for new hires.

It is important to acknowledge that many NHS trusts recognise the need to link capacity to demand and they understand that team job planning (real team job planning not group planning) can offer an effective solution. It is also important to state that many trusts we talk to are committed to doing it and where they can, they do.

So what is the barrier?

We know the problem and we know a key part of the solution.

Well, the overwhelming feedback we get is that the process and work required to undertake this approach are complicated and time-consuming, and workforce managers and service leads simply do not have the time or capacity to undertake this year on year. This can lead to a vicious cycle, relying on individual job planning which is detached from the core driver, patient demand, creating more pressure and less time. One answer to this problem is a great team job planning system and for those with the capacity to drive it, it is, but for those who don’t, how useful is it?

To make sure that trusts can have demand-led job planning there need to be innovative approaches to workforce optimisation. A method that helps trusts navigate the complexities of team job planning and bridge the gap between capacity and demand. A method that requires minimal input from the Trust. Maybe the answer is to get someone to do it for you, who has the capacity, tools, and expertise already in place. If the blocker is internal capacity, then remove it. Move away from the current focus which is primarily inputs (systems) and compliance and towards working with the outputs of a process requiring less time and capacity to achieve.

I can hear you cry, ‘that is all well and good but that doesn’t exist.’

Doesn’t it?

I will not say too much about it here as the opportunity is only going to be open to two tusts over the next six months, but if you want to know more, be an early adopter, shape the future of workforce optimisation, and ultimately improve patient outcomes then email me at