Assistant Director story

“From thriving in my nursing career and feeling I was making a difference to feeling undervalued and like I was going nowhere. My ally made me believe in myself again, practically helped me get back on my feet and to find a new passion for my NHS career.” Assistant Director and Cardiac Intensive Care Nurse Specialist.

‘As a specialist cardiac nurse by background, I became disillusioned with my role in intensive care as I felt stuck in a rut, seeing colleagues climbing the ladder past me, despite all that I was achieving. So I made a bold move to join NHS Direct – the best move I ever made.

I jumped up the ladder in terms of career progression and found an exciting new opportunity that gave me the chance to fine tune my specialist skills.

At that time, I had two children and was on part time hours, but back then, the culture I experienced wasn’t yet one that that believed people could manage family life and progress in their career at the same time.

A new role opened my eyes to different opportunities and to different worlds.

I was then recommended to look to another opportunity someone thought I’d be ideal for – setting up a cardiac programme in the Midlands. In that role I worked with government advisors from 10 Downing St, Department of Health, with the national heart tsar, CHD collaboratives, as well as transferring patients internationally for treatment.

We made enormous strides, reducing waiting lists down to a matter of days. Historically people could be waiting up to two to three years for heart surgery, valve surgery, bypasses or angioplasty.

We developed an advanced new system of care to make sure people were supported as they made their choice, wrapping a bespoke care package around the family and ensuring they were integrated into their local pathways and didn’t become lost in the system.

This is where I first became familiar with the world of gathering feedback to shape service provision and service improvement techniques and approaches. I became a redesign and improvement trained discovery interviewer. My work involved a lot of working away from home, but it was the first time I felt truly innovative, and I felt the NHS was being innovative in return with its approach to flexible working, compressed hours and working from home.

It was the NHS at its best. 

Then I moved into the world of commissioning clinical networks.  As a patient and public involvement manager and service development manager, it was my job to make sure the patient voice shaped decisions and strategic plans.

Excellent provision for patients relies on a stool with three strong legs of equal distribution, capable of carrying this weight of responsibility 1. Patient Experience 2. Patient Safety and 3. Clinical Efficiency /Effectiveness.

I believed the rhetoric of a ‘Patient Led NHS’.  A restructure saw the whole area of patient involvement come under review and it felt like the patient experience function was the first to be sliced. This decision made me question how much value is placed on the law and the statements within our NHS definition of Quality and the NHS Constitution.

I subsequently applied and was successful in joining another NHS national body to lead programmes of work. This was a period of significant personal leadership development and achievements. I was set up and equipped as an agile worker and treated as an adult and I flourished.

However I recognise this was not the case for everyone across the organisation. Despite the policies, dedicated advocates/ organisational leads and corporate rhetoric there were pockets where local culture prevailed which did little to enable talent to grow.

One of which was the insistence of ‘bums on seats’ visibility in the office which was difficult to reconcile and created unnecessary pressure for those with mothering and caring responsibilities.

The unintended consequence of the COVID-19 has forced us to address this, forcing people to think differently and allowing us the opportunity to overcome at least one of those different mini cultures within the organisation that was taking a protracted amount of time to address.

“Some teams are still offering less flexibility than I experienced 27 years ago. People need to be respected and trusted to be capable of delivering our corporate objectives outside of an office-based 9-5 arrangement.”

However it wasn’t too long before further structural changes saw things really come under pressure for me as opportunities shifted. At no stage did anybody have a real human and practical conversation with me about what the changes meant and what they might mean for me as an individual.

Nobody took enough personal interest through that process to position me to retain my skills and abilities. I had started my career as a student nurse at the age of 19 and only ever knew the NHS. I believed this was to be my family for life. The end point was that as a specialist trained nurse with 36 years of NHS experience, I was made redundant.

“Living this period of redundancy was unimaginably devastating for me.”

Allyship in action for me was when I stumbled across someone a little by accident rather than design ‘on the outside’ of the organisation who made me believe in myself, someone who made the time to help.

This person spent extraordinary amounts of their own time helping to position me to apply for my dream job and to be successful at interview by talking over things with me, helping me to shape my presentation, coaching me and boosting my confidence. Nobody else did that.

I understand that change is inevitable and in taking the NHS where it needs to be , there will be casualties along the way but it doesn’t mean that we should stop being human. Behind every number is person with a heart, a personal life and a story that matters.

Whilst the corporate messages, regular communications and knowing there were additional support services around was incredibly helpful and whilst I had people I could talk to who sympathized with my plight. What I really needed was this truly human experience that refocused my attention.

“Whilst there is a time to mourn there is also a time to shake yourself down and get on with living.”

He shone a spotlight on my previous experiences/ achievements and made me focus on those as a positive. He was honest and upbeat and pragmatic. During our dedicated sessions together he practically helped me and made me believe in myself and made me believe that anything was possible. People need to be taken by the hand and personally guided through the process, they need to know that someone has the time for them and they need to feel that someone cares

“What is needed is a human face to the corporate voice.”