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A programme to connect “floor to board” is proving a win win for everyone involved, according to senior leaders at an east London NHS Trust.
The chief nurse fellow programme offers nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals and healthcare scientists the opportunity to work with senior managers for a week at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT).
“My aim is to give colleagues a really good insight into the workings of the executive team”
More than 50 people have completed the programme since it was launched 12 months ago and it has proved so successful that 140 applications have already been received for places in 2021.
Trust chief nurse Kathryn Halford said the programme was proving a real eye-opener for colleagues from bands 2 to 9, as well as fostering a hugely beneficial link from board to floor.
She said: “My aim is to give colleagues a really good insight into the workings of the executive team and the opportunities that are available to them at BHRUT.
“People often talk about senior managers being in an ivory tower but by exposing as many colleagues as possible to what goes on in that ivory tower, hopefully they will better understand the link between what happens at ward level and how that informs decisions made by the executive team and board.
“From an organisational point of view, the programme has given us a really good network of people working on the frontline who are more informed and confident about giving us local feedback to improve our decision-making processes,” she said.
Elizabeth Maxwell, a senior sister in theatres and interim quality and safety advisor to the emergency department, was one of the first chief nurse fellows to complete the programme last January.
She said: “I saw a poster on a coffee room door about the programme and I immediately thought it sounded fantastic.
“In nursing we are very isolated in our specific roles, and we don’t often get the opportunity to see what someone else is doing in the hospital, especially at that senior level,” she said.
“I have some ambitions to get to that level myself, so I thought it would be good to see how things work and to gain a better understanding of who does what,” said Ms Maxwell.
After submitting her application, she was selected to take part in the programme and, along with other members of the 2020 cohort, has helped to shortlist this year’s candidates.
“One of the most valuable aspects for me was attending a board meeting”
All fellows follow a flexible, five-day programme, which can be fine-tuned to reflect any particular areas of interest, noted those behind the scheme.
Typically, each candidate will spend time with the chief nurse and her six deputy chief nurses, as well as senior management teams in areas such as quality and safety, clinical audit, risk and compliance, research and innovation, safeguarding, patient experience and procurement.
Ms Maxwell said: “One of the most valuable aspects for me was attending a board meeting. These are people you see every day walking the corridors but you don’t fully appreciate the multitude of things they are involved in.
“The programme also gave me the chance to gain a rapport and a relationship with people I wouldn’t normally meet,” she said. “It’s only when you get the chance to talk to senior managers that you realise how approachable they actually are.”
Senior midwife Shaan Little, a triage manager in the maternity department at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, completed the programme at the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “The chief nurse did warn me that it would be a bit different but I thought it was a unique opportunity to experience how a pandemic changes the way we work.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the week and it gave me a really good insight into how fast things can develop and how rapidly senior management can respond.
“It was a real eye-opener to see how quickly important decisions went through the approval process so there was no unnecessary delay.”
Ms Little said she was so inspired by the senior leaders that she shadowed, it has changed her own career aspirations.
“They showed a very open style of leadership and were very approachable and happy to listen to what I had to say and take that on board,” she noted. “It did make me feel I would like to see myself being that kind of leader in the future.
“I would never have considered working in a corporate team before I did the programme; I would probably have thought it would be boring, to be honest. But now I know what it involves, it is something I would definitely consider in the future,” she added.
All fellows who have completed the programme are awarded an arm band and a pin badge to wear. They are also invited to quarterly meetings of the chief nurse fellows group, chaired by the chief nurse.
“I thought it was a unique opportunity to experience how a pandemic changes the way we work”
Ben Seymour, a specialist physiotherapist in critical care, said the meetings were a good way of maintaining and developing the two-way link between floor and board.
He said: “It’s great to catch up with the chief nurse and the other chief nurse fellows, and it makes you feel like the programme is really valued and it’s not just a week and that’s it.
“We are quite a diverse group of people for senior management to tap into for our feedback about various things, and it also gives us useful contacts for the future,” he said.
He admitted that his experience over a week in July changed his view of NHS leadership.
“The programme gave me a completely different perspective of how the hospital is run. Being a clinician, it’s very difficult to understand the processes and operational decisions made day-to-day by high level management.”
He said: “It was particularly eye-opening to realise that every decision made still comes back to patient care. You see stories in the media that it’s all about money but in all the meetings I attended, the patient was always at the centre of every decision.”
Mr Seymour highlighted that the programme also gave him the confidence to move into his current role and a wider perspective on his future career path.
“It was encouraging to realise there are few limitations on my career, just because I am a physiotherapist,” he said.
“I might have expected that my only real career path into management was to become a manager of physiotherapists, but it encouraged me to discover there are also a lot of other avenues I could pursue.”
Speech and language therapist and therapy manager, Alexia Young, also found the programme opened new doors for her career wise, as well as giving her a valuable opportunity to “walk in someone else’s shoes”.
“One of the by-products of the programme is that is has enabled us to spot some real stars”
Since completing the programme in March, she has been seconded as an associate director in the corporate nursing team, focussing on the redeployment of the nursing workforce during Covid-19.
She said: “I really enjoyed seeing the operational side of running a hospital and finding out about the career opportunities that are available when you step away from being a clinician.
“Our chief nurse has had an amazing career and is an extremely good mentor. The programme enabled me to make a really good connection and as a result, I applied for a secondment into my current role which is a fantastic opportunity.”
Ms Young said she has actively encouraged her AHP colleagues to put themselves forward for the programme.
“Our chief nurse is also responsible for allied health professionals and I think it is important for people to know she is our leader and she always looks for opportunities to support us,” she noted.
Ms Halford added: “One of the by-products of the programme is that is has enabled us to spot some real stars and that has been particularly encouraging and rewarding.”