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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Creating a Great Culture – Part 1

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 recommend that you buy yourself a copy – it serves as a great manual! As you might expect in a book which flows out of Rugby Union, there are 15 principles to align with the 15 players in the team. I will therefore make this a 2 part reflection, to make it more readable!

 

I’ve written a few blogs on here about the importance of culture (of joy and kindness) in health and social care, and indeed, the IHI so clearly show that building a “Culture of Joy” in healthcare is one of the core pillars to creating a truly excellent, safe and sustainable health and social care system. If we get the culture right, everything else follows. We spend so much time focused on vision, process and measurement, but nowhere near enough time to establishing a really healthy and flourishing culture. So, how do we do it? How do we build a really good culture? Well….I am no expert, but I want to share what I’ve learnt from this book and am learning through the work we are doing here in Morecambe Bay.

 

1) Character – it is everything. Team is not built on good players, it is built on good character, which is far more important than talent. Good character starts with humility. No one is ever too important to do the most menial of tasks. This has to be modelled.

 

2) Adapt – Darwin said, “it is not the strongest species who survive, but those most able to adapt.” In a target driven system, like health and social care, with edicts handed out from on high, we need to develop the kind of culture that is able to take the strain, to bend, to mold and not lose focus at the whim of every new government initiative. Adaptation means we need a compelling vision for the future and the investment in our teams to move well together, especially at times of pressure.

 

3) Purpose – My coach, Nick Robinson, asked me a great question the other day. I have been really struggling with the idea of ambition. For me, ambition is a word that is tied up in negative ideas like selfishness and arrogance (that isn’t true for everyone – just carries those connotations for me!). So, we explored what a better word might be to help me think about the future. The word we agreed on was purpose. So then he asked me, “So, what is your purpose? Who are you here to serve? And where in the world does that need to be manifest?” At one of the lowest points in their history, after crashing out of the World Cup in the Quater Finals – a match they really should have won, a group of the All Blacks shut themselves in a room to rediscover their purpose. One of the coaches spoke 6 words and it began to change everything. “Better people make better All Blacks.” This is true in every context. Better people make better doctors. Better people make better nurses. Better people make better managers. Better people make better receptionists. Better people make better leaders. We spend an inordinate amount of time developing the skills of our teams, making sure they can ‘deliver the goods’, but we invest precious little time, space or energy in ensuring that we develop better people. Do we help people confront their own ego issues? Do we enable people to get to grips with their shadows, their struggles, their root issues? It really matters who people are, far more than what they can do. Perhaps our development days should focus far more on tools like the enneagram and strengths finder than on some of the “mandatory training” we always make the priority.

 

4) Responsibility – this forms so much of the ‘culture of joy’ I have blogged about before. People need to know they are trusted to do the work they have to do. We have to create a culture of ownership, accountability (not micromanagement) and trust. The All Blacks talk about a collaborative culture in which individual talents can rise and flourish. Are we crushing the creativity of our teams by not allowing people to really come into their own?

 

 

5) Learn – for people to be at the top of their game, they need space and time to develop their skills. In a global landscape, we need to look beyond our own boundaries, discover new approaches, learn best practices and push the boundaries. It’s not OK to just settle for something a bit rubbish – learning allows us to strive for excellence in our work. There is wisdom in this Maori saying: “The first stage of learning is silence. The second is listening.”

 

6)Whanau – Rudyard Kipling wrote: “For the strength of the Pack is in the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is in the Pack.” The being of team comes from within. In the All Blacks, there isn’t space for “dickheads”. Team is everything and those who want the glory for themselves will not find a place within it. The All Blacks build on this principle. It is better to be punched in the stomach than stabbed in the back, or as the Arab proverb says: “It is better to have a thousand enemies outside your tent, than one inside.” We need to create a healthy culture of being able to challenge damaging attitudes and behaviour so that when we move, we move as one in adaptable formation, like the spearhead formation of birds as they fly.

 

7) Expectations – There is a saying the All Blacks use: “Aim for the highest cloud, so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain.” Why aim for something a bit rubbish? If we benchmark ourselves against the best practices, we will strive to be the best we can be. It’s OK to fail – that’s what a learning culture is about. But it’s also ok to not set your standards low and expect failure. Let’s expect the best from our teams so that we create a culture of excellence in the way we work.

 

8) Practice Under Pressure – I think this is especially important in a geography, like ours, in which we may not see some things very commonly. Simulation labs are vital and exposure to other working environments, so that we learn how to deal with serious situations with a calm head. When the heat is turned up, as it so often is in our working environments, we need cool heads and steady hands. Ensuring our training is as robust and pressured as possible, makes us ready for the times our skills are needed most. For this reason, we must not mollycoddle our medical, nursing and therapy students too much. We must expose them and our junior staff and help them be prepared for our times of greatest pressure.

 

In the next blog, I will focus on the other 7 principles of building a team culture. Plenty to think about above though, eh?!

 

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A Collaborative Clinical Community 

Tweet *Warning – this blog contains swear words (not that I’m usually a potty mouth!) This last week we had a gathering of clinical leaders around Morecambe Bay – Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors, Midwives, Doctors, Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Pharmacists etc. We were gathered from across primary and secondary care to look together at the financial [Continue Reading …]

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