Edward Davies: Who’d be an NHS manager?

Edward Davies I’ve just come back from the NHS Employers annual conference in Liverpool. As one of the biggest gatherings of HR managers in the country it’s very easy to mock, so that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I couldn’t help but snigger into my semi-ecologically friendly conference bag at seminar titles such as “Outcome-based diversity management” and “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” It’s very unkind of me, but it takes a certain kind of perfectly good, intelligent but undoubtedly HR person to see the talk titled “Win win with sustainability” and whip out the highlighter to annotate their programme. They were probably all brilliant and valuable talks but at the time of greatest upheaval and cutbacks in NHS history, the HR masterclass entitled “Into choppy waters” felt a little like calling World War II “A bit of a blip in the Anglo–Germanic relationship.”

Sorry, I’m going straight to hell aren’t I?

But between my childish giggles, I did hear one straightforward statistic that brought me up slightly short. Over the next few White Paper-inflicted years there will undoubtedly be a reduction in the NHS workforce. Whether medical or more likely management you hear people throwing round semi-substantiated employment cutbacks from 5% to 35%. A lot of other public sector services are facing similar cuts and it’s easy to get slightly inured to what that actually means.

So here is the statistic: every 1% change in NHS employment represents 10,000 jobs. At the lowest estimate of the cutbacks, that is 50,000, and the other end that is as many as 350,000 livelihoods on the line.

And in reality it is very likely that the NHS managers at conferences like this will be the ones to establish the new systems at the government’s behest and then be the ones to lose their jobs to accommodate it. In spite of working in HR, some of these managers will not just be good people but excellent at their (actually pretty important) job. They may have decades of experience and an exemplary track record. But they have no guarantee of employment next year. In the coming months, many of them will essentially be planning their own funerals.

Medics and management don’t exactly have a reputation for harmonious working but doctors might want to spare a thought for their adversaries in the coming weeks – it isn’t much fun being an NHS manager right now.

Edward Davies is editor, BMJ Careers