South Western Ambulance Service saves with cloud-based expenses system

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is saving money with the use of a cloud-based staff expenses system.

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South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is saving money with the use of a cloud-based staff expenses system.

SWASFT has over 4,000 staff who provide ambulance services across an area of 10,000 square miles with 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.

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

Instead, SWASFT went live with Expenses Health from Software Europe. Mark Noble, financial controller for SWASFT, said: “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."

He said: "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."

Wider site visits were then made to inform staff about the new system with help from Software Europe.

SWASFT currently has 800-1000 of its staff submitting claims monthly through the system. The body is using Expenses Health on a three-year annual license, with costs calculated against the number of claims submitted monthly.

Staff now submit expense claims electronically at any time during the month for review by their line manager. At the moment, 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, meaning at least 800 paper claims - two pages of paper for each claim - removed from the system per month.

Staff can also access the expenses system and track progress of their claim themselves, and managers feel under less pressure and have more time to review, reject or approve claims.

Finance can also 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 around five hours to process, the new system is saving about four days per month in staff time.

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, SWASFT is saving £1,072 per month.

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 whilst 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 also plans to 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 further.

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