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Reflections on a frontline workforce that inspires the ‘art of the possible’…

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Guest blog from Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development, Sue Hodkinson

On the first of every month myself, and my executive colleagues enjoy the privilege of engaging with members of staff during a planned walk through the corridors, wards and offices in both our Chester and Ellesmere Port hospitals to meet with staff and patients. The conversations and feedback really make us stop and think – and then sometimes we think some more. So much so that I want to share with you one of our more recent encounters, that we have since been referring to as ‘The Frances Effect’.

Last month, the 1st fell on a weekend. I joined our Chief Finance Officer, Debbie O’Neill and we set off to explore the weekend look and feel of the hospital. Everyone we came across had observations, energy, ideas and frustrations about what works and what doesn’t work…

We started with the reception team in the Emergency Department, and spent time in both majors and minors. It was busy, dealing at the time with four complex paediatric cases. You couldn’t help but be in awe of the calmness and diligence of everyone working there. We saw first-hand how the new Rapid Assessment Team was dealing with cases on arrival, hindered in having to move the beds around to free up space. They were missing the dedicated and valued porter that they usually have in the week, which we are looking into.    

Our next stop was radiology, with staff holding extra clinics on a weekend because of current pressures and demands on the department. It felt hectic and the team were under pressure. This was in part due to the fact that they were providing both the reception service and welcoming patients as well as providing the clinical diagnostic service. The radiographers were obviously working with the right intentions. Some of the patients were left confused on arrival as to who was booking them in. Is this the right first impression for our patients but also the right experience for our staff?  This is the time when managing financial pressures can impinge on us providing a great patient and staff experience and I know from speaking with teams involved, it is a significant frustration. 

After this, we met up with one of our clinical site coordinators where we visited AMU and wards 50, 51 and 45. Colleagues talked frankly about how boxes on ‘green’ forms rarely get ticked or reviewed to indicate if a patient might be an outlier.  These are patients in our care that are medically stable and might be suitable for moving to support patient flow through the hospital.     

Our last stop was to visit the Catering Team, who were finishing preparations for Sunday lunch being delivered to our patients throughout the Trust.  We also met a key member of the team, Billy, who sadly passed away a few days after & I know was a huge loss to the Team. 

A weekend undoubtedly feels different in the hospital. It doesn’t feel 24/7. There are no or limited volunteers on reception in the main building entrance.  Some areas, such as outpatients and pharmacy were locked up, yet the lights were on. Perhaps they were being cleaned. 

At this stage, I’d like to mention Frances - a domestic assistant we came across on our travels. She epitomised ‘Team Countess’ and that sense of pride our workforce so often displays. She is a former housekeeper to the Duke of Westminster. She is a real story teller – engaging and endearing. She talked to us about how her shift starts on a Sunday at 9.30am in the ‘minors’ department. Starting at this time she needs to work around the patients – and she felt it caused them some disruption. She questioned us … surely it would be easier and less disruptive if she came in earlier before the patients started to arrive?

I don’t pretend to have the answer, or potentially even the influence or ability to effect a change. On one level – yes, I am sure this would be easier and better for patients. On another level – I feel a greater sense of responsibility to support Frances, and many other colleagues just like her, to feel engaged and empowered to suggest a change and make a change for themselves, for their colleagues and for the patient.  This is what I mean by ‘The Frances Effect’.  How many more of us come into work every day, with this clarity about the small changes we could take to make a big difference?

Last week (March 11) saw The Countess of Chester and healthcare providers nationally celebrate the grass roots movement with growing momentum that is ‘NHS Change Day’. We have many talented people working here championing action in the areas of dementia, and the national ‘#Hello My Name Is…’ campaign on behalf of their patients. 

However, this year I will be taking my inspiration from Frances.  With a workforce headcount of more than 4,500 people at the Trust and one key piece of feedback from those of your completing the Staff Survey that you are keen to be more involved in making improvements to the areas you work within, how many more of us are ready to suggest our ideas to take forward in conversations with line managers and to lead change for ourselves? Over the coming weeks and months, we want to work with staff to help make a 1000 changes happen. How we will do it, I don’t yet know. However, I hope like me, reflecting on this year’s NHS Change Day you will take a cue from Frances. Watch this space. 

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