Solutions for the NHS Workforce Crisis

This week, the Kingsfund, one of the most respected think-tanks on health and social care in the UK declared that the current NHS staffing levels are becoming a ‘national emergency’.

 

The latest figures have been published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period.

 

They showed:

  11.8% of nurse posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 42,000

  9.3% of doctor posts were vacant – a shortage of 11,500

  Overall, 9.2% of all posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 108,000

 

NHS vacancies a ‘national emergency’

 

This is having a profound impact on staff who are working in the NHS now, with low morale, high stress levels, increasing mental health problems and people leaving the profession (either to go over seas, where pay and work-life balance is considerably better) or retire early. 

 

Increasing the number of doctors, nurses and midwives (all with considerable debt, mind you!), by 25% over the next 5 years is welcome, but it doesn’t solve the problem now, and it is unlikely to be enough, even then!

 

But, let’s take a solutions focussed approach. What can we do now? I think there are a few things we need to consider:

 

  1. I can understand how frustrating it is for the public to find that waits are longer to receive much needed care. When we’re anxious or worried about our own heath or that of a loved one, we are understandably at a position of higher stress. However, this staffing crisis is not of the making of the nurses, doctors and other health professionals who work long hours every day to provide the best health care they can. So, it’s really important that as a country, we treat our NHS staff with kindness, gratitude and respect. The current abuse of NHS staff is making the job even harder and really making people not want to come to work. And that means we also need to make complaints in a way that is perhaps a bit more compassionate or understanding towards people who are working under high stress situations. It is important that we learn from mistakes, but complaints have a huge impact on staff and can hugely affect their confidence, even when they are dealt with in a very compassionate way by those in leadership. 
  2. We need to ensure that we use our appointments appropriately. Yes – sometimes, we have to wait a while to see our GP, but if we get better in the mean time, we really don’t need to be keeping the appointment! And missing appointments costs us all so much time and energy and makes those waiting lists ever longer. If we value our health system, we need to either keep appointments, or take responsibility to cancel them.
  3. We need to take an urgent look at the working day of our NHS staff and work out how we build more health and wellbeing breaks into their days. We need staff to have space to connect, keep learning, be active, be mindful and take appropriate breaks. This means senior leadership teams getting the culture right, when the pressure is on and the stakes are high. 
  4. We need to get smarter with digital and enable patients to make better and more informed choices about their own care and treatment, with better access to their notes. In this way, we waste less time and empower people to become greater experts in the conditions with which they live everyday. There are great examples of where this is happening already. It isn’t rocket science and can be rolled out quite easily. It’s good to see some announcements about this from the new health secretary Matt Hancock MP, but we need to make sure the deals and the products are the right ones. It’s also vital, when it comes to digital solutions that Matt Hancock listens to his colleague and chair of the health select committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, in being careful what he promotes and prioritises.
  5. We need to be thinking NOW about the kind of workforce we are going to need in the next 2-3, and 5-10 years and we need to get the training and expectations right now! There is no point designing our future workforce based on our current needs. Rather, we need expert predictive analysis of the kind of future workforce we will need, in line with the ‘10 year plan’ and begin to grow that workforce now. If it’s healthcoaches we need to work alongside GP practices, then let’s get them ready, if it’s community focussed nursing teams, then let’s adjust the training programmes. This kind is vital and must influence what happens next.
  6. We need to stop putting pressure on NHS staff to deliver that which is currently undeliverable without causing significant stress to an already overstretched workforce. By this I mean centrally driven schemes, such as the intended roll out of GPs working 8-8, 7 days a week. Maybe it’s an aspiration for the future if we can sufficiently reimagine the workforce, but it’s not a priority now and isn’t the answer to the problems we’re facing.
  7. We need to stop the cutting of social care in local governments, and ensure that central funding flows to where it needs to be, to ensure the allied support services are present in local communities to work alongside NHS colleagues in getting the right care in the right place at the right time. This is the single biggest cause of our long ED waits and our problems with delayed discharges from hospital. It isn’t rocket science. It’s the reality of cuts to our social care provision, which have been too deep and this needs to be reversed.

 

Personally, although it is an option, I feel uncomfortable about a ‘recruitment drive’ from overseas, as it is very de-stabilising to health care systems in more deprived parts of the world when we do that. I think there are some win-win initiative we could develop pretty quickly that could also form part of our international development strategy.

 

In summary, we need to treat our NHS staff with kindness, look after their wellbeing, use our services appropriately, use digital technology with wisdom and not for political gain, redesign and start building the workforce of the future now, stop undeliverable initiatives and ensure the right funding and provision of services through social care which means central government funding back into local government. It won’t solve everything, but it will go along way towards giving us a more sustainable future to the NHS.

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Four Circles of Population Health

In my previous blog in this series, I wrote about the ‘Pentagon Model’ which we have developed in Morecambe Bay to help us think about how we manage Population Health. The Pentagon approach actually forms one of four parts of some over-lapping circles, based on 4-Ps (Population Health Approach, Partnerships, Places, People Movement), which give a more holistic view of what is involved.

 

At the heart of the model we are working with, sits the people and communities who live in Morecambe Bay. Communities can be geographical, communities of interest (e.g. faith-based/workplaces etc), or transient (e.g. students). We are absolutely passionate that we do not do things TO people and communities, but rather, guided by the brilliant principle that ‘nothing about me, without me, is for me’, we do things with the people and communities we are trying to serve. We look to co-design, co-create and co-produce our services, because the services belong to the people. This takes culture change and some new thinking on our part and we are learning to work differently.

 

Our Venn-diagram gives us a framework with which to think about Population Health more clearly. The Population Health Approach Pentagon of prevent, detect, protect, manage, recover really forms one of the circles. Included within this, also, are a few other important factors. Firstly culture. If we don’t get culture right, then we don’t get care right. I’ve done three separate vlogs on the kind of culture we are trying to embed across the health and care system in Morecambe Bay – Joy, Kindness and Excellence. Secondly, we are redesigning work around various different health problems, for example, diabetes or respiratory problems WITH people who actually live with those conditions and use our services on a regular basis, building pathways for people that actually make sense and work for everybody. Thirdly, we are taking time to really understand the data available to us through many sources and using it to enable both the leadership team and our local teams to make informed decisions about where we need to focus our efforts to improve care.

 

More than ever before it means that we need to share resources with other organisations in order for us to be able to cope with current budget constraints. It also means that we have to think very carefully about where we align our resources. One of the issues for us in population health is that we have never really tackled the growing health inequalities in society. It is simply NOT OK that some people in this Bay die 15-20 years earlier than people who live 6 miles down the road. It is also NOT OK, that it is in these areas of higher deprivation, where we also see more complex medical and social problems, but do not allocate the money or the staffing to cope with the increased demand. And yes – it is true, that the problems are complex, and so money and resource is not the only answer, but it is definitely a part of the answer! If we’re ever going to make an inroad into changing the health of our population and tackling health inequality, we need to apply the triple value approach of Professor Sir Muir Grey – of how we prioritise our resources. (http://www.nhsconfed.org/blog/2015/05/the-triple-value-agenda-should-be-our-focus-for-this-century). Here is a short clip about it, if you’re interested! (https://vimeo.com/155569869).

 

Partnerships are absolutely key in improving the health of the population. There is so much cross over between county and city/district councils, the police, the fire service, the NHS in it’s various guises (including mental health, GPs, acute hospital trusts and community services), the CVFS and indeed the business sector. The relationships at strategic-leadership level and within each locality are the oil that allow us to work effectively together. It is only through honest, transparent vulnerability that we learn to trust each other and to share the resources we have to serve the needs of the population. As social care continues to sit under the remit of the County Councils and Health remains under the NHS, increasingly devolved into the regional Integrated Care Systems, without a deeper and more shared accountability and effective working together we will not have the necessary leadership to enable local team to transform the future of care.

 

This is where Place becomes really important. It is harder to get culture right, and build relationships that really work well if we’re always talking about “working at pace and scale”. As services are reconfigured, it is important that team structure allows for small enough teams to enable good working relationships to happen and that the necessary work is done to get culture right! I was in conversation with Professor Sir Chris Ham, CEO of the King’s Fund, and he is adamant that it is at this local neighbourhood level where the real change takes place, because this is where we are able to work with people and our communities in a very real way. That’s why we are so passionate about our Integrated Care Communities (ICCs). This is where, in a very relational way, traditional barriers between organisations are broken down and new bonds are formed in working together for local communities across the public and community-voluntary-faith sector (CVFS). There is a real danger that we focus so much on the ‘super structures’ and put huge time and energy into reorganising the system and lose sight, in the process, of the very thing we are trying to do, which is to make care better! Our ICC teams must feel the full permission and receive the resource needed to do this transformational work.

 

The reality is, however, that unless we have a people movement for improved health and wellbeing, nothing will change. The issues we are facing health and care-wise are incredibly complex and multi-faceted. In Morecambe Bay, we currently spend £1.20 for every £1 we receive. We are doing our very best to try and reimagine how we deliver health and social care, working more efficiently in partnership and redistributing resource where we can – but when we are all in financial deficit (and in our local NHS we need to cut our cloth by £120 million over the next 3 years – 1/5th of our total budget) when we have already had some eye watering cuts to the county councils budgets, especially in the area of public health, there is only so much we can achieve! We understand the frustrations that people feel when it comes to health and care, but we cannot fix it from within the system alone. There is a need for us all to recognise that things we could provide a few years ago may no longer be available or not within the same time frame as previously. It would be wrong of us as health leaders to simply make changes without the communities having a say. But for example, if we are to improve our Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service in South Cumbria (which is desperately needed), we might, as an example, need to do less knee and hip replacements……we simply can’t afford it all, with our current allocations of resource and staff, and therefore we need local people to work with us on this, and help us work out where our priorities should be. We know, if we don’t involve our communities in these decisions, complaints will go through the roof, which drives down morale and is utterly exhausting for teams to deal with. However, we are going to have to be brave in some of our decision making.

 

As a society, we also need to all be more healthy and well, taking care of ourselves and each other.Some might argue this is all down to personal choice. Of course, there is some choice involved – however, when you read the National Audit Office report (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44468437) into the huge difficulties Universal Credit is causing, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report into Destitution in the UK 2018  (https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk-2018) then you begin to realise that it is easier to make healthy choices in some communities far more than in others. These are inconvenient truths, and need to be reflected upon with due diligence. There is a danger that we choose to work with highly motivated communities to improve health and wellbeing and actually make health inequalities worse. However, if we really listen to what is going on with local communities and work together, we can do some great stuff . Work from the University of Birmingham shows that if we can see a change in just 3% of our population, then this will have an effect on 90%. As the work in Canterbury, New Zealand shows though, this takes time and relationship – the process is actually more important than the end product. And for an under-resourced, already exhausted community, supporting any social movement requires investment at many layers. The NHS 5-year forward view and the learning from the Institute for Health Innovation both recognise that social movements/people movements are key to transformational change. We must press on with this work, and base it on a foundation of love and collaboration if we are really to change things together. So, this is why we are so passionate about really working with our communities, here in Morecambe Bay and will continue to host  and hold space for community conversations. We are talking about many things, from economic development,  to childhood, education, loneliness and mental health. These spaces are vital for us to connect together, hear one another, meet people who are different from us because it is only together that can reimagine a future that is good for the planet and socially just for humanity.

 

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Creating a Culture of Excellence

Tweet This is the 3rd in a 3-part series on how we can create great working cultures. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. The first two vlogs were on joy and kindness; this one focuses on excellence. If we don’t get culture right, we don’t get care right – and in the NHS, that is fundamentally [Continue Reading …]

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Creating a Culture of Kindness – Vlog

Tweet Here is Part Deux of my 3-part Vlog series on how we can create great culture in Health and Care Systems (or anywhere really!).   “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Peter Drucker, but I don’t think we believe this anywhere nearly enough!     Share This:

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Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Tweet So, the NHS is in another winter crisis. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a crisis  as: 1 A time of intense difficulty or danger. ‘the current economic crisis’ Mass noun ‘the monarchy was in crisis’ 1.1 A time when a difficult or important decision must be made. As modifier ‘the situation has reached crisis point’ [Continue Reading …]

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Creating a Great Culture – Part 2

Tweet In the last blog, reflecting on the book “Legacy”, by James Kerr, I started to explore how the All Blacks have managed to create such an excellent culture; reflecting on what we can learn from it in the health and social care system (or indeed any environment).   Of the 15 principles outlined, I [Continue Reading …]

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Creating a Great Culture – Part 1

Tweet I’ve recently finished reading the extraordinary book, “Legacy”, by James Kerr. It is a book about the culture of The All Blacks, the most “successful” sports team in the world. If you are involved in leadership, at any level, especially if you are passionate about developing the culture of your team, I would heartily [Continue Reading …]

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Authentic, Loving Leadership

Tweet Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of spending some time on a leadership programme with the NHS Leadership Academy. One of the things it has helped me to do is talk more openly and honestly about what is important to me, what shapes me, what makes me – me! I have spent [Continue Reading …]

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Inconsistent and Incongruent Messages

Tweet The King’s Fund have just released an excellent video to help explain how the NHS works and some of the complex things going on in it at the moment. It doesn’t shy away from making it crystal clear who is in charge of the money, nor the difficulties we’re facing in staffing and resource [Continue Reading …]

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