Meeting demand, managing our money and the importance of avoiding compassion fatigue: the 3 big challenges for NHS 70. @samanthallen

As I write this blog I am very mindful of the sustained pressure facing the NHS and its impact upon patients, carers, families and staff.

As its 70th birthday approaches, the NHS remains a cherished institution.  But we can’t afford to take it for granted.

We need our NHS.  But we shouldn’t just accept any NHS.  It should be safe, accessible and responsive. It should deliver evidence based, effective treatment. It should deliver care with dignity, kindness and compassion. And, as a tax-payer funded service, it should use its resources wisely.  This includes encouraging – where possible and clinically appropriate – greater self-management; a health and social care service focused on the needs of individuals rather than the convenience of organisations.

Can this be achieved, amidst the much reported pressure on the whole health and care system?

In my view the inability to deliver care with dignity, kindness and compassion is perhaps the biggest threat facing the NHS. Why? Because of the impact this can have on our patients, staff and our ability to use NHS resources wisely.  It breaks my heart to think about the difficult choices those working in the NHS are making each and every day and the impact this can have on them and those we are here to serve. Our NHS staff are very resilient and resourceful but the relentless nature of the pressure we are facing can lead to compassion fatigue.  Everyone working in the NHS wants to do their best but with the pressures on services they may spend so much time giving to others they could forget to care for themselves.

Now, more than ever, we need to pay attention to the health and wellbeing of the staff who we expect to be there 24/7 to look after our own.

If we can’t care for those providing healthcare how can we support them to provide care to others? This also includes carers and those with lived experience who give so much to keep our NHS going. The NHS is a community we all have a stake in and need to thrive. If people are not in rewarding roles they won’t stay in the NHS or continue to support the work we do.   If staff don’t feel valued, morale will plummet and absences from work can increase. This is why healthcare needs to start with self-care if we are to recruit and retain staff.  If we look after ourselves and each other then we will be in a better place to deliver care with kindness and compassion; and, in turn, have an NHS that better uses the resources it has made available to it. And after all kindness costs nothing.

At Sussex Partnership, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced this week that we have moved from being rated as ‘requires improvement’ as an organisation to ‘good’ overall and good in every domain (with the exception of caring where we have been rated ‘outstanding’).    We are heading in the right direction and I am very proud to work alongside colleagues committed to the NHS and the work the Trust does providing support to people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

We are clear about our vision and our values. I see, experience and hear about colleagues living these every day. They are:

  • People first
  • Future focused
  • Embracing change
  • Working together
  • Everyone counts

Our values are really starting to become the way we do things at Sussex Partnership.  We don’t always get it right – I know I don’t get it right every day – but we are trying hard to behave in a way and work together to support learning and continuous improvement.  This has to start with putting people at the heart of everything we do.  We want people to experience us as listening, taking action, adapting the way we do things, learning and having high ambitions for others and each other.  The #Everybody campaign our Hampshire CAMHS Team is running is a great example of taking action.

I believe we have really started to shape a culture of openness and honesty, where we encourage, nurture and support each other.  Where teams are building relationships founded on mutual respect, sharing and learning. – collaborative rather than competitive.  Over the past year we have started to put teams are the heart of our work.  Professor Michael West’s work has guided our work on team development. We are also developing new ways of putting patients in the driving seat. One of these is the ‘Leader Leader’ model, recognised by the CQC as ‘outstanding practice’ at Langley Green Hospital. At Langley Green patients are known as ‘service leaders’.  We are taking this a step further and are about to embark on setting up our ‘Leader Leader Academy’ with the support of the NHS Leadership Academy.  It is in the early stages of development but something we are very excited about and I am sure we will all hear more about when it gets going.

We firmly believe in enabling the voice of patients, carers and families to be involved in decision making and shaping our work, this is described in our Clinical Strategy.  Our recent ‘Principled Ways of Working’ conference explored how we can develop the governance frameworks and standards we expect of each other to work in new ways together.

The culture we are shaping at the Trust has been at the heart of the improvements we have made and will continue to make together.

Are we perfect? No, of course not – show me a healthcare organisation or system that is. But I can tell you that we are ambitious for the people we are here to serve. And, in doing so, we must recognise the importance of looking after ourselves and each other, being kind and continuously improving what we do.

We are about to embark on the next chapter at Sussex Partnership: ‘good to outstanding’.  I am excited and eager to achieve this; though I don’t underestimate the scale of the task (not least ensuring we use our resources wisely and mental health gets it fair share of the resources available in the communities we serve).  I know we can do it but only if we remain true to our values and continue to work together in partnership with patients, families and each other.  This is why the next chapter will be co-produced at Sussex Partnership – we started this journey to outstanding together and we will get their together.

I know each of us wants to play our part in keeping the NHS going for the next 70 years.  We all need it, we all rely on it and therefore we need to cherish and care for all those who deliver it.

For our NHS to survive and flourish for the next 70 years, the need to nurture our values, culture and staff must have equal billing with the drive to continuously improve performance and live within our means financially. That applies more than ever when times are as tough as they are now.  The NHS is all about the people it serves and there is nothing more important than our people.