When I was in theatre last week for minor surgery, the clinical staff went through the theatre checklist with ease. They must have done this thousands of times before, but I felt so reassured by that safety check as a patient. They made me feel relaxed. They talked to me and calmed my anxiety. Talk soon turned to what I did for a job; ‘I work for the NHS which was met with a loud response – “Did you say ‘quality?’ – well, we need more staff!” I didn’t have a chance to reply, as a few seconds later, I was out for the count!
Days later “we need more staff” was ringing in my ears. I thought of how many times I’d heard those words and probably said them myself. Starting when working 12 hours shifts as a nurse more than thirty years ago, on the mental health wards where I started me career. Then, when I worked as an operational leader when bank and agency staffing costs was out of control. Those words were heard again when I worked as a commissioner, during our quality meetings with providers. In fact, any time I go anywhere on the frontline to talk about the challenges faced “we need more staff” is always one of the top responses. The reality is we do need more staff!
We need more staff like Rookie who simply said “Hello my name is Rookie, I’ll be looking after you today” and patiently took the time to explain everything in detail so I could understand, on the day of my surgery.
We need more staff like Millie, the second year student nurse who asked me how I was feeling about my operation as soon as I got on the ward. She reassured me with such compassion, and made sure my glasses were there when I woke up in the recovery room so I could see!
We need more staff like my consultant who said ‘We have met before’ as though we were old acquaintances. And the trainee doctor who explained she would be in theatre to learn, and gave me a reassuring smile when I got there.
We need more staff like the nurse in recovery who noticed I wasn’t breathing properly and cold, even though I couldn’t say; and warmed me up with those great air blankets.
Every day frontline staff do small things like this that usually go unnoticed, it is their job after all, and there’s nothing novel about that!
However it made a big difference to my experience, in comparison to the doctor who took two phone calls about the clinical governance meeting, whilst in middle of talking to me in the ward round. To the receptionist who tried to dismiss me when explaining I wasn’t on a ‘pathway’ when my urgent hospital appointment was messed up, wasting the hospitals time and mine. These are just small issues compared to what many people go through everyday, but it costs nothing extra to get them right. It was all these little things that added up to great care.
Five years ago as a commissioner when I was working with Mid Staffordshire hospital on their quality assurance, I often heard people say ‘we need more staff’ and I was struck when talking to some frontline staff who did not feel they had the permission to make changes. I recall some reasons were people feeling they had lost their passion for why they came into the NHS, feeling worn down by the system and powerless to do anything about it, so why bother. It struck me how hard it is to grasp that power divided is power shared and that we can change the system by starting with changing how as leaders we enable frontline staff to lead what is already evidenced, just plain common sense and allowing them to ‘just do it’.