As I sat at the plenary sessions throughout the NHS Confederation Conference this year, there were similar themes arising in every speech I heard. Everyone knows the NHS needs to be designing new ways of working around the patient. Everyone knows we need to be more aligned between health and social care. Everyone now knows that to do this, we need frontline teams engaged, we need extra capacity to be able to provide better quality of care for patients, and we need great leadership, not just management. But how?
All too frequently I hear leadership teams, across the NHS, talking about the same problems that they had 5 years ago: not hitting their targets, where are they going to get ideas for cost improvement targets without reducing the quality of care they offer their patients, how do they keep frontline teams engaged and motivated.
We also heard at the Conference that the NHS has continued to serve more people over the last five years whilst having no significant real-terms increase in budget. This is an amazing achievement in itself; however, this has left a considerable number of health care providers struggling to control costs and many with balance sheets that are not looking as healthy as they were five years ago.
It’s not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that there is a way where all of the above is achievable. It is possible to deliver, invariably, great quality care. You can meet the required cost improvement targets. The health and social care system can be completely aligned and working seamlessly to deliver the best patient journey. It involves an approach that has been honed, proven and sustained over 25 years and it works in any industry - Unipart's healthcare partners are living proof of this.
If the NHS is to rise to the above challenges, improve patient care and safety, and be a worthy vehicle for future budgetary increases, then it must make sure that it continues on its pursuit of a new healthcare model, ensuring it is squeezing every drop of efficiency from its current finances. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, revealed that three quarters of NHS staff think that care can be improved, but that significantly less see anything being done about it. So knowing all of this, how can this change be attained?
Change must come from within, not from Whitehall… :
- … that approach has been tested to destruction. The power of the NHS’s 1.3m strong workforce must be unleashed: “engaged staff can make huge improvements in care and making the money go further" - Norman Lamb
- "We won't have an NHS if we don't listen to staff, and patients will suffer as a result ... we have to empower them, policies and procedures are not enough." - Helene Donnelly
Time after time during the conference, the same messages were becoming abundantly clear. An engaged workforce is an absolute imperative. Many speakers alluded as to how organisations may go about achieving employee engagement:
- Providing stable leadership and resisting further ‘overhauls’ of the system (as Edwina Currie highlighted, the problems nearly always stay the same)
- Empowering and training staff to solve problems at their own level
- Sir Stuart Rose reinforced the issues of leadership and knowledge-sharing, stating that successes must be shared, recognised and celebrated.
- Dr Patrick Cadigan raised the issue of significant differences between views of board and staff, and asked what can be done to tackle this "disconnect". One approach would be to give front line staff more involvement in high level strategy. This would not only help engage employees, but also ensure that the right data concerning the quality of care is being used in strategic decision making.
It is clear to me that staff are the powerhouse of the NHS ("frontline staff.. ..the health service's best weapon" - Jeremy Hunt), so I see employee engagement as one of the core change enablers from which everything else will come from: patient experience, high-quality integrated care, operational excellence, daily innovation and efficiency savings.
If you can achieve employee engagement then the components of a new and reformed health and care model, which were discussed in detail during the conference, will stand a far greater chance of being successfully delivered.
At Unipart we don't just talk about employee engagement, we live and breathe it every day within our core operating businesses. We can demonstrate engaged staff solving problems at their own level to help improve service quality and reduce costs, at any one of Unipart’s 17 UK locations. Why not come and see it for yourself?
If you want to know more about the “how” then our white paper makes for essential and interesting reading: Realising the benefits of employee engagement: How to attain employee engagement, and how it can deliver gains in quality, patient care, productivity and innovation within the NHS.