How We Are Planning for a Future After Coronavirus

Hi all

As we continue to rise to the challenge of COVID-19, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all once again for all you are doing to continue to support each other and our service users in the most difficult of times.

Of course, the most obvious priority has been organising our day-to-day operations, making sure they are delivered safely, excellently and in line with requirements from the NHS and national guidelines. The work of our Deputy Chief Executive, Jonathan O’Brien, and colleagues on the Incident Management Group, as well as all of the back office staff supporting them, has been superb. Can I ask everyone to keep reading the COVID-19 updates that come out from this team so you can keep yourself up to date. You can do so either from the emails to your inbox, or from the dedicated section on our public website at https://combined.nhs.uk/covid-staff-updates/ 

Looking at the wider picture, I’d like to focus on the two things I think will be hugely important for us all – not just in the here and now, but for the coming weeks and months.

  • Health and Wellbeing; and 
  • Restoration and Recovery. 

Health & Wellbeing

Protecting the health and wellbeing of our staff is one of the most important duties of the Trust as a whole and for myself as Chief Executive. That is true in normal times, and even more important in the uniquely challenging times like we are currently living and working through.   

Our Executive Director of Workforce, OD and Inclusion, Shajeda Ahmed, has been supported by her team, our Communications Team and the Trust’s Head of Psychology, Matt Johnson, to produce a whole range of advice and resources to enable you to support yourself and those in your teams who you line manage. 

If you haven’t done so already, you can access them via our Trust Intranet at the new dedicated section on Supporting our people through Covid-19. Watch this space for further work in this area from Matt and our Medical Director, Buki Adeyemo.

In addition, and if you don’t have easy access to the Intranet, the national NHS England People portal has further fabulous advice, support and links to resources. I was struck by one particular piece of advice used by NHS England – With uncertainty and challenges of COVID situation, it’s completely normal to feel unsettled, anxious and worried. As NHS staff, we are often portrayed as heroes – and can be. However, it’s unrealistic to be heroic all the time and even heroes need help.”

Sometimes, you may simply need to speak to someone. The NHS has introduced a confidential staff support line, operated by the Samaritans and free to access from 7am–11pm, seven days a week. Call: 0300 131 7000 Alternatively, you can text FRONTLINE to 85258 for support 24/7 via text.  

Or there is also our own fantastic staff counselling service available. We have set up a specific COVID Support Helpline so you can speak to members of our team as and when you require. This service operates Mon-Fri, 9am–4pm. You can contact us on 0300 124 0104 to access the Support Helpline. During lockdown, we are following social distancing guidance and we are conducting counselling sessions virtually through video calls. For those that don’t have access or feel comfortable using this technology, we can also carry out our sessions over the telephone.

Combined United Goes From Strength to Strength

Our health and wellbeing is also directly linked to staff morale. What better way to boost morale than to recognise and celebrate our amazing achievements during these difficult times. As most of you will know, we have launched ‘Combined…United’ to raise the profile of all the amazing things going on amongst our staff and partners to meet the COVID-19 challenge.

We are ALL in this together and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to highlight, support and recognise everyone else. ‘Combined…United’ enables us and them to do so. ‘Combined…United’ is freely available on our public website and open to anyone – whether they work for Combined or not. Anyone who wants to do so can use an online form to provide their own message of appreciation for something being done by an individual or a team. It can be anything you like, big or not so big. It could be that you simply want to say “I really value what you do and how you do it”. Or a message of support and encouragement. Or maybe you want to give a public profile for something being done that otherwise might go unnoticed.

Your message or tribute will be reviewed by the Communications Team, before being included in the Hall of Fame. We will ensure this happens as quickly as possible, as we know you will wish it to be shared. Please make sure that you have permission from anyone in any pictures or videos that you share. We will ask you to confirm that you are happy for the material to appear in this website and across our social media channels. Please also ensure that any photo or video you take complies with the Government’s advice on social distancing.

I thought you might like to know that we now have received over 90 tributes via Combined United, covering a whole host of teams, back office support and external partners.

​It really has been heartening for me and the Executive Team to be able to read the messages that you are all exchanging with each other and sharing with the wider world. We have had great traction on social media, in particular Twitter and the Trust Facebook Page, where I know lots of you have been able to further share and amplify your admiration and support for one another. The Communications Team have also been assiduously using LinkedIn to spread the word of what you are doing far and wide as an example of what an Outstanding place our Trust is.

Your words of support and admiration for each other is a testament to what a great place Combined Healthcare is. If you need your batteries recharging or hope restoring, can I suggest you simply take five minutes to have a browse. You won’t regret it.

And, of course, feel free to add your OWN tribute to what you see.

The Communications team have also produced a Word Cloud that summaries the key words and phrases people are using to each other. As you will see, not surprisingly, amongst the highest appearing words are:

  • NHS
  • team
  • staff
  • support
  • patients
  • care
  • ward
  • service
  • working
  • challenging

You can watch my video launch of ‘Combined…United’ below.

Restoration & Recovery

‘Restoration and Recovery’ is something you’ll be hearing a lot about from me in the coming weeks and months. It’s a rather grand phrase which is being adopted by senior leaders across the local system to describe something which is actually quite simple, but also exciting.

At its heart, it can be summed up as saying that, when we come through the current crisis, things should not simply go back to how they were before. And it’s a commitment to recognise and take long-term advantage of all of the enormous energy, innovation, ideas and solutions that have been introduced in recent weeks – as I said in my previous blog, recognising that often “necessity is the mother of invention”.

Our current thinking is that there are four stages to Restoration and Recovery:

  • Manage the immediate issues – which is what we are now in;
  • Restore – bring back essential services that may have reduced and ensure that patients are confident to engage with the NHS;
  • Recovery – addressing the backlog of need that may have accrued. Developing our approach to new ways of working; and
  • The New NHS – from April 2021 move forward with the transformation agenda to fundamentally reduce inequalities and improve effectiveness of our healthcare system offer.

I’d invite you all to take five minutes to reflect on just some of the innovations we’ve introduced in recent weeks:

  • moving significant parts of our business from a largely buildings- and desk-based operation to virtual and cloud-based;
  • replacing staff face-to-face meetings with online and digital;
  • introducing video consultations between service users and clinicians;
  • equipping scores of teams with the most up-to-date laptops and mobile devices to facilitate federated working;
  • significantly reducing our carbon footprint through slashing the number of car journeys needed to get our people to work; and
  • introducing enhanced service user risk assessment processes to ensure we maximise the effectiveness of our service offer.

Doing all of the above has been a massive undertaking and has given us the opportunity to really ‘think big’ about what we can achieve when we combine confidence with determination.

But we also need to be aware that be aware that coming out of the current situation and returning to a “new business as usual” will not be without significant risk. So we also need to be thinking now about what those risks are and how we can mitigate them.

That’s a conversation I want to have with you all – and for us all to have together – over the coming weeks.  

How to Keep Up to Date With All You Need to Know

Lastly, a quick reminder of how you can keep up to date day-to-day with all you need to know.  

Our public website – at https://combined.nhs.uk/coronavirus/ – contains general COVID-19 advice and resources, as well as links to NHS England/Improvement advice and material and support resources made available by Public Health England – including a range of materials in alternative formats such as Easy Read, Large Print and British Sign Language

As part of our support to staff during the Coronavirus challenge, we provide regular updates, guidance and advice from our Executive Director of Operations, Jonathan O’Brien and myself. Recognising that many of you will now be working remotely or may not always be in a position to access the internal network or emails, we are making them available on our public website as well – at https://combined.nhs.uk/covid-staff-updates/ so they are always accessible and available. The updates in many cases link to underlying material on our CAT Intranet. If any member of staff cannot access any of this material from their device, they can e-mail the COVID Team to request a copy.

Through our Executive leads, we are also providing weekly Q&A updates for our Medical, Psychological and Nursing staffing groups.

We are providing strong and wide-ranging support to our staff, via dedicated sections on the CAT Intranet for workforce and HR issues and staff wellbeing.  

I hope this is helpful to you all.

Peter