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An evaluation of nurse rostering practices in the National Health Service


Rhian Silvestro Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England. E-mail:


An evaluation of nurse rostering practices in the National Health Service

The scheduling of nursing time on hospital wards is critical to the delivery of patient care, resource utilization and employee satisfaction. Over the past decade many hospital wards in the United Kingdom (UK) have moved away from the traditional planning of rosters by a single manager, towards more participative processes known as self-rostering and team rostering. This paper tests the hypothesis, developed from the literature, that the three types of rostering approach may be positioned along a continuum. Self-rostering at one extreme, is conducive to staff empowerment, motivation and roster effectiveness, whilst departmental rostering, at the other, leads to perceived autocracy, reduced empowerment, lower levels of staff motivation and roster effectiveness. Team rostering is positioned mid-way on this continuum. This paper reports the findings of an empirical study of nurse rostering practices in the UK National Health Service (NHS), with a view to developing an understanding of the implications of implementing these three rostering approaches and testing the above hypothesis. The survey of rostering practices in 50 NHS wards, and in-depth case studies of seven wards, revealed that each of the three rostering approaches has benefits and limitations and a picture emerges quite different from that implied by the research hypothesis. Whilst the literature suggests that the choice of rostering approach determines the level of perceived autocracy, staff motivation and roster effectiveness, it is proposed in this paper that selection of rostering approach should be contingent upon operational context. The paper concludes with a framework which stipulates that the choice of rostering approach for a ward should be determined on the basis of four contingent variables, namely, ward size, demand variability, demand predictability, and complexity of skill mix. It is recommended that departmental rostering be applied in large wards with complex rostering problems, whilst team rostering is more appropriate for medium sized wards, and self-rostering appropriate for small wards.