Nursing Celebration at the Maudsley – a day to reflect on NHS staff wellbeing

Anyone with access to my diary would see that I enjoy speaking regularly at a diverse range of conferences. I find reaching different audiences rewarding and, whilst the topics are often overlapping, I maintain a discipline of refreshing material to try and keep the messages engaging.

I had accepted an invitation to speak at an event described as a Nursing Celebration, with a day-long theme around staff wellbeing, to be held by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust at the Maudsley Hospital in London.

I have to be honest: I travelled on a difficult commute to reach the nursing conference, and I wasn’t feeling well or looking forward to presenting on the familiar topic of NHS staff health and wellbeing!

Encouraged, surprised, inspired

I was encouraged by the enthusiasm and engagement of senior nurse leaders in the Trust. Then, I was surprised by the energy of a packed audience. In my travels I have seen mindfulness in action, but the pre-session, expertly led by Dr Stirling Moorey, a consultant psychiatrist in the Trust, fought off the impact of my terrible journey.

I hadn’t shared my material with the chairs for the day (Simon Darnley, Head of Nursing and Quality for Lambeth, Vanessa Smith, Director of Nursing and Simon Sherring, mentioned below) but their introductions were incisive and “en pointe”. They even used the same analogies I had planned for my own presentation. Despite massive challenges in the Trust — particularly with high and difficult-to-fill nurse vacancy rates — the event genuinely celebrated staff well-being. 

It was led off by the Chief Executive who spoke from the heart about creating a great place to work.

My presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session, that visited the challenges nurses face in the demands of working in hugely difficult jobs – I was put on the spot about the realities of delivering flexible working, access to breaks for nutrition and hydration, pay and the issues of juggling home life with stressful roles!

I had delivered the 2009 review of NHS staff Health and Wellbeing almost ten years to the day previously. As I had back then, I asked the audience why being “cobblers children” was an acceptable situation for the professional staff we need so badly in the NHS.

A good tip! The elephant in the room

Part of the reason I enjoy accepting invitations to speak at such events, is the opportunity to hear the perspectives and expertise of other speakers. My presentation was followed by a beautifully delivered session from Simon Sherring, the Deputy Director of Nursing and a mental health specialist nurse. He spoke about a topic I have addressed several times in recent months: the “elephant in the room” that is the issue of mental illness among healthcare workers.

I knew the numbers he was sharing very well, but his delivery style was excellent and built towards a management theory that I won’t forget. Indeed, I hope he will let me use it personally.

He invited the audience to identify a diverse series of musical artists – such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Lisa Stansfield, Bananarama and Fun Boy Three — and then he asked what we could learn from them about good leadership and management.

I had had a very early start, so I confess I failed the test. The simple common link was the song “It ain’t what you, do it’s the way that you do it,” a track they had all successfully recorded.

Whilst the “what” is still important in leading and managing large complex organisations, I was struck by this simple way of reinforcing how important it is to consider carefully “the way” we approach what we do.  I have seen throughout my career how the very best leaders don’t compromise this to achieve the needs of their organisations.

The recent survey of attitudes by BiTC “Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership” showed that unfortunately this simple mantra is not universally applied – and so is worthy of a reminder.

I left the event once again enthusiastic about the opportunities to improve health and wellbeing for staff in the NHS, having met true leaders looking forward to change.