To support the preparations for Coronavirus (COVID-19), we have made changes to the services we provide
Neil Carr is a passionate leader who has faced many challenges during his career within the NHS. However, arguably his most challenging test was leading an integrated physical and mental health NHS Trust, which also provides learning disability and social care services, through a global pandemic.
With approximately 8,500 members of staff, and services based across Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, as well as specialist services spanning the country. Neil knew that the pandemic was going to have a significant impact on Trust services, the workforce and patients and service users.
Prior to the pandemic the Trust, established in June 2018, worked to establish itself as a new organisation. Much of the senior leadership team’s work focused on creating liberating structures, engaging with the workforce to facilitate values that empower staff to make their own decisions and developing a strategic direction for an integrated organisation.
Although much of this work had settled and was beginning to build traction once Covid-19 arrived. The pandemic halted all routine work and the way in which the organisation operated changed very quickly.
Pace of Change
Leading an organisation through change is something which Neil has experienced before. However, the pandemic brought a pace of change which no one had experienced. And on reflection the pandemic provided permission to implement rapid change, which would have otherwise been difficult to achieve within such a short period of time.
MPFT focused specifically on how the Trust could support the acute sector to create capacity to discharge people into the community; making way for people who required enhanced acute care. This meant standing down routine services and redeploying hundreds of staff to support people coming out of hospital and into the community.
A flexible approach was required within all areas of work including leadership. Decisions needed to be made very quickly. However, processes still had to take place and assurance was needed to ensure all decisions were safe. This meant that many different people had to work together, communicate with each other and all be working towards the same goal.
Neil believes that communication was a fundamental aspect of successful leadership and inclusion during the pandemic. As a result the organisation adapted the way it communicated with staff; introducing daily briefings, developing online webinars which gave staff the opportunity to ask the leadership team questions. Leaders had to be upfront and honest and explain their expectations of staff. Some staff would need to be redeployed, others required to work from home or implement virtual consultations to care for patients and service users remotely.
Regardless of the request made by the leadership team people stepped up to the plate to respond to the crisis.
Equality and inclusion
During the pandemic light was shone on the Black Lives Matter movement following protests in response to the death of George Floyd in America. During the same time it was also widely reported that people from BAME communities were also more likely to be affected by coronavirus.
As a leader of a large organisation Neil felt the need to take stock and ensure that all staff, but particularly BAME colleagues which make up 53% of the Trust's medical workforce, felt safe and secure. Again he focused on clear, honest communication and flexibility to ensure that the individual needs of staff and service users could be accommodated.
Leadership following a pandemic
Neil admits that the pandemic has challenged him. It was uncharted water for which there wasn’t a route map. He says that during such uncertain times a leader has to; bring their team together regularly; be prepared to be flexible; read the mood and respond quickly. But most importantly, a leader has to be able to work with others. He says that, “The pandemic has re-established the importance of people. The human touch and interaction. Working together makes the difference.”