Ambulance trust uses cloud technology to modernise expense claims

Software Europe’s Expenses Health is the NHS’ most-widely-used cloud technology

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) provides ambulance services to people in the South-West of England.

In February 2013 it acquired neighbouring Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust (GWAS). In its enlarged form, more than 4,000 staff have responsibility for the provision of ambulance services across an area of 10,000 square miles and a population of 5.3 million.

Up until 2013, SWASFT employees were using expense forms created using MS Excel to submit claims for mileage, subsistence and other items purchased during their duties. Once completed, those forms were printed for submission to a line manager for approval and ultimately onto payroll for payment. With staff spread across nearly 100 ambulance sites, it was a laborious process for all involved – staff, managers and payroll.

Once enrolled on the system, most people could use the system without difficulty

Staff generally submitted claims once at month end. This gave managers around one to two days to review claims before approving for payment. Managers provided updates to keep staff informed of the approvals process.

In April 2013, SWASFT went live with Expenses Health from Software Europe. The solution is the mostly-widely-used cloud technology in the NHS with more than 600,000 users across 130 NHS trusts, CCGs and CSUs.

“We wanted to start with a new expenses system in time for the new tax year,” says Mark Noble, financial controller at SWASFT.

“We first cleansed and updated the staff data held in the NHS Electronic Staff Record [ESR] before connecting with Expenses Health. We knew the bi-directional interface with ESR would remove any future need to duplicate data between both systems. In terms of getting staff up and running, we started with those working in our HQ, managers and anyone using a lease car. Once enrolled on the system, most people could use the system without difficulty. We did decide to get out and visit people face-to-face anyway to explain the system and the change. Software Europe assisted us with presentations and support materials. The finance team travelled to the main 30 ambulance stations out of a total of 100.”

SWASFT currently has 800-1,000 of its staff submitting claims monthly through the system.

Noble said: “We’re using Expenses Health on a three-year annual license with costs calculated against the number of claims we submit monthly. We haven’t really needed it yet, but the team at Software Europe provides support via a helpdesk and a 24-hour, seven days a week emergency telephone number.”

Staff now submit expense claims electronically at any time during the month for review by their line manager. Right now, SWASFT has opted for staff to put their paper receipts into a pre-paid envelope for posting to their line manager. In the future, it plans to introduce scanners at each ambulance station so that receipts can be emailed for approval.

With an electronic claims system, there is a reduction in paper moving around the organisation; approximately 800 paper claims - two pages of paper each claim - removed per month. Employees using the system also have greater visibility into the status of claims because of Expenses Health’s audit logs. Staff can access the expenses system and track progress of their claim themselves. They no longer need to spend time confirming if the claim was received, approved and sent for payment And managers feel less pressure and have more time to review, reject or approve claims because staff can submit claims at any time during the month.

Finance can now create reports within the system for managers to check, for example, reviewing outstanding expense claims after the 4th or 5th day of the month for approval. This replaces use of paper-based cheque requisition forms, which would need input from payroll, a cashier to raise the cheque and a manager to sign the cheque. With around 20 requests per month each taking approximately five hours to process, the new system is saving approximately four days per month in staff time. Equally, claims over three months old submitted for payment are automatically routed to the financial controller for approval, reducing burden on both managers and payroll.

Following deployment, SWASFT has further customised Expenses Health, bringing continuous business benefits configuring it to remove the ‘miscellaneous’ option from the list of selected expenses items. With the removal of this common dumping ground, claims are submitted more accurately so that managers can review and manage spend appropriately. The reporting function enables SWASFT to better manage mileage claims and the payroll team can review individual use of personal cars, for example, and if necessary implement a local pool car to reduce costs.

The system also creates more-accurate mileage claims because it provides automated postcode-to-postcode routing. SWASFT estimates that if Expenses Health more accurately calculates each return journey distance between ambulance stations by just one mile and, with a conservative estimate of staff making two journeys per month, x 800 claims x 67p mile, SWASFT is saving £1,072 saving per month

A bi-directional interface between Expenses Health and the NHS ESR ‘central data hub’ helps maintain the accuracy of staff data in Expenses Health – such as changes of details, work address, mileage and vehicle details. Staff changes made in ESR are reflected in Expenses Health greatly reducing duplication of work. Equally, expenses payment information entered to Expenses Health is replicated in ESR replacing a previously manual and time-consuming process. Claimants can also use Expenses Health’s My Details page to view their own details in NHS ESR to check for accuracy, improve data integrity and ensure accurate reimbursement.

Above all else, we now have greater visibility of claims, and staff are getting paid more quickly

Noble said: “Above all else, we now have greater visibility of claims, and staff are getting paid more quickly.”

In the future, SWASFT is considering greater use of Software Europe’s mobile application Expenses360. Available for use with major platforms and devices including iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and soon Windows Phone, it enables staff to record expenses on the move, scan receipts with camera functionality, check the trust’s expenses policy and approve claims, all while out of the office. SWASFT is particularly interested in using the app’s capability to harness smartphone GPS technology for greater accuracy of mileage routing.

SWASFT will also expand its use of Software Europe’s GreenLight Workforce, an electronic system which replaces the paper-based forms the Trust uses, such as notification of new starters and leavers. GreenLight Workforce improves operational efficiency and therefore reduces costs.

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