NHS South Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust: Working flexibly transforms working lives


BT Workstyle Managed Services saves money while improving patient care by helping SEPT people manage their days

Working across a 200-site healthcare organisation, where mistakes could at best damage reputations and at worst reduce lifespans, is about as responsible as it gets. And for Ola Hill, who helps assure compliance in one of the largest NHS trusts in the country, making every minute count is a daily pressure.

For Ola, the introduction of flexible working means she can work equally effectively on the train, at home, in a hotspot or onsite. She feels much more in control, she’s making better use of her time and, where necessary, she can adjust her routine to help her family. Now that’s transformational.

I don’t have to worry about having enough time for reports. At the end of the day my deadlines are met, my stress levels are lower and I can be a lot more productive. That’s good for me and it’s good for the organisation.”
- Ola Hill, Compliance Officer, South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust


Serving a population of 2.5 million, South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) provides integrated services – including mental health, learning disability, and social and community care – across urban and rural areas of Essex, Bedfordshire and Suffolk. It employs some 7,500 people at around 200 sites.

With increasing pressure on budgets, SEPT was looking for ways to reduce running costs while simultaneously improving front line services. In common with many similar trusts it had inherited a range of clinical buildings and offices that didn’t necessarily fit with modern community-based medicine. Adopting more flexible working practices thus presented a significant opportunity to make worthwhile savings while meeting and exceeding performance targets.


SEPT chose BT Workstyle Managed Services – a comprehensive package of technology, applications, professional services and ongoing support – to realise its flexible working ambitions. Dr. Patrick Geoghegan, the SEPT chief executive officer, says: “Alongside business benefits like greater productivity and cost reductions, I wanted a service that was really going to make a difference to patient care. BT came up with exactly what we needed.”

A BT Workstyle Managed Services team worked closely with SEPT to design a flexible working solution closely tailored to the particular needs and circumstances of the Trust. Vitally, the programme – called WorkSmart – was not just about technology. “BT guided us through every area contingent upon flexible working adoption including space planning, HR processes, financial management and staff communications,” recalls Martin Norton, WorkSmart project manager at SEPT.

For example, pains were taken to ensure the WorkSmart programme took account of the complex, long term multidisciplinary care that can be needed by mental health patients. This included designing processes that would integrate the involvement of other service providers and care partners, while ensuring flexibility to accommodate the changes that might occur in the dynamic UK healthcare environment.

“Right from the start we engaged our staff,” says Patrick Geoghegan. “We listened to their anxieties and we got them on board. We promoted the WorkSmart concept, and asked for their opinions. That was welcome because the staff came back with ideas that would actually improve what we were trying to achieve.”

Five mobile working templates were agreed and developed to cater for different working patterns:

  • Mobile – for employees who work predominantly across clinical or administrative buildings and do not need to work from home
  • Mobile Plus – for staff such as social workers who spend at least 50 per cent of their time visiting people in the community and need to work partly from home
  • Fixed – for those who work in one location with little or no opportunity to share space with others for business or network reasons
  • Shared – for members of a team to hot desk where access to colleagues, paperwork or visiting members of the public is a prerequisite
  • Home – for employees whose duties mean they can work where they live on a full time basis

Home and Mobile Plus employees benefit from enabling technology such as BT Enterprise Broadband, which connects home-based employees to the Trust’s network through a secure internet connection. They then have the same access to email, files and applications as in the office.

Another key element of the WorkSmart programme is the web portal, designed and implemented using BT Workstyle Managed Services best practice. “The portal is incredibly important to us,” confirms Martin Norton.

Giving SEPT staff secure access to everything they need to get started, the portal also provides ongoing support and information services. “SEPT people can use it to register for flexible working,” explains Peter Knowles, business development director, BT Flexible Working Services. “All they need do is press a few buttons to match one of the five working patterns to their job. In the background, the portal automatically specifies and supplies all the necessary technology. That includes ordering broadband or furniture for the home, for example, or an iPad if appropriate to their role.”


Over the four years it’s been running, the WorkSmart programme has had a significant beneficial financial impact on SEPT. “With WorkSmart we’ve realised recurring savings of some £1.7 million annually in real estate costs. That’s money that’s no longer drained from the healthcare budget, which is fantastic in my view,” says Martin Norton.

WorkSmart has also contributed to the success of SEPT in taking on new NHS business. Patrick Geoghegan explains: “We are able to demonstrate to prospective commissioners that we will work differently, save money and improve the working lives of their staff.” When SEPT took on one such new contract it inherited payments to a landlord of £600,000 per month. “WorkSmart enabled us to close that building within three months and save that £600,000, which went straight back into direct patient care,” adds Patrick.

The SEPT WorkSmart programme has had a significant effect upon staff acquisition, retention and return to work ratios, which means major savings on recruitment and training costs. “That’s because people feel we trust them and they like to be part of an organisation that thinks outside the box,” says Patrick Geoghegan. “There’s also been a marked reduction in sick absence, because our people are much more in control of their diaries and the way they work. Taken together those factors give us much better continuity of care, which is invaluable.”

Around 40 per cent of SEPT people are now taking advantage of flexible and agile working, and the Trust intends to take that proportion to above half. That fact was influential in SEPT becoming one of the first trusts to achieve the Improving Working Lives (IWL) standard. “WorkSmart has been incredibly important in achieving and maintaining our IWL accreditation,” says Martin Norton, “by providing the proof that we empower our people.”

SEPT now gets activity reports back from its staff and, within no more than three days, 99 per cent of those daily reports are stored in its systems for analysis. Patrick Geoghegan says: “This allows us to give our commissioners a more accurate view of how we’re utilising our budgets and how we’re performing.”

Patients, too, are benefiting from the changes. The WorkSmart programme coincided with, and was integrated with, the introduction of electronic patient records. Now, clinicians are able to use WorkSmart technology to access and update records in real time wherever they are. That means care is better co-ordinated and potential mistakes are avoided. For example, Crisis Care teams can be more quickly alerted and directed, and can reach patients faster armed with the up-to-date information they need.

“Flexible working really does make a difference. We say we’re here for one reason only and that’s to provide good patient care. To do this we need to retain as much resource as we can to invest in front line services. And WorkSmart enables us to do exactly that,” Patrick Geoghegan concludes.

Core Services

  • BT Workstyle Managed Services
  • BT Enterprise Broadband

SEPT people have their say…

With the WorkSmart programme now part of business as usual, comments received from SEPT staff include the following.

“For me, reducing my carbon footprint, because I need to travel less, is a truly significant benefit.”
- Lisa Fuller, Service Development Manager

“It allows more flexibility in how I apportion time between home and work and, in so doing it makes me more efficient.”
- Paul Atherton, Senior HR Adviser

“I’m about 50 per cent more productive working flexibly, because there’s no need to travel back and forth. And I can better fit personal commitments around my working life.”
- Mark Travella, Service Development Manager

“I really love it. I get a lot more done and I find my work life and home life are now better balanced.”
- Leslie Wackett, Business Support Manager

“I’m able to give a better service to the people I work closely with because I’m more available and spending less time on non-productive activities.”
- Naomi Stevens, Trainee HR Adviser

“I absolutely recommend flexible working to my colleagues. If you need to cover more than one building then you should be working flexibly, without a shadow of a doubt.”
- Ola Hill, Compliance Officer


Case study

SEPT case study

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