Networking is at the heart of our partnership working

Developing and supporting strong, inclusive and positive networks between staff, service users, carers and health and care partners is at the heart of good leadership and successful partnerships. This week has provided a number of opportunities for me to continue to do so. And we have had some great proof from our Substance Misuse Team of the commercial success that working with our partners can bring.

Can I also, once again, offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to all our staff who were working over the Bank Holiday.

Ramadan Mubarak

The month of Ramadan began on the evening on Sunday 5 May and will end the evening of Tuesday 4 June. Ramadan involves periods of fasting for Muslims, which means abstaining from food, drink (including water) and smoking from sunrise to sunset. While fasting is an important part of Ramadan, it is also a time of self-reflection and self-evaluation for Muslims.

On behalf of everyone at the Trust, can I wish a peaceful and blessed month to all patients, carers, volunteers and staff.

Accommodating religious belief and practices during Ramadan is about being responsive to employees’ needs. As supportive employers, NHS Trusts have recognised that it is good practice to accommodate staff requests wherever possible. It does not necessarily mean extra time off – it is about offering flexibility around existing holiday entitlement, working patterns or break periods.

Similarly, staff should also be aware of the health issues related to fasting, so that they are able to make more informed choices, minimise complications and maximise the benefit of their fast, as well as operational effectiveness.

We have also shared guidance to our pharmacy and medical teams on Ramadan and medicines to better support patients and service users who are observing the fast.

One of the ways in which we can support our Muslim staff is by providing a private space where they can pray or reflect. We have had the Oasis Room at Harplands Hospital and the Harmony Room at Dragon Square for a number of years. This year, for the first time, we have created “The Sanctuary” – a room at our Trust Headquarters in Lawton House. These spaces are not just for Muslim members of staff, but can be used throughout the year by all and any staff simply wishing to benefit from a quiet, reflective space. 

To mark the start of Ramadan, this week’s Combinations Podcast features three of our Muslim colleagues talking with our Diversity and Inclusion Lead, Lesley Faux, about what Ramadan means to them and how their co-workers can support them and learn more during this period. You can listen to it at

Building Successful Local Partnerships

I was delighted to continue my programme of ‘Meet and Greet’ with key local partners and colleagues.

Our colleagues and friends at Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust (MPFT) and its predecessor NHS Trusts have been one of our most important partners over many years. As the two providers of mental health services across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, it is particularly important that we are able to work together in the most beneficial and productive way possible for the benefit of service users and their families across the communities we serve.

It was a pleasure, therefore, to be able to have a really valuable chat with the Chief Executive of MPFT, Neil Carr. Having recently take over community physical health services, Neil described to me the various service developments planned over coming months. We also discussed how we continue to work collaboratively to ensure equity of mental health provision across the county and how we maximise our support for acute health services. As you will know, supporting the development of the Primary Care across North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is at the heart of our long-term strategy and at the core of our vision to be outstanding in all we do and how we do it. The North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Alliance is essential to success in this regard, and so it was equally pleasurable to sit down with Mike Pyrah, Independent Chair of the Alliance Board. Mike is passionate about system-wide “population health” management to ensure that we maximise the clinical benefit derived from the limited resources available to us. This provider-led approach is at the heart of how we plan to take our partnership forward with secondary, primary and social care partners over coming months.

Partnership Approach Secures £400,000 Boost

Many congratulations to our Substance Misuse Team – lead provider for the Stoke Community Drug and Alcohol Service –  who recently were part of the successful bid team to Public Health England led by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council Commissioners for Adult Social Care, Health Integration and Wellbeing.

The successful bid was awarded just under £400,000 for a three-pronged project.

1.Dedicated alcohol access:

To make services feel safer and more attractive, separate entrance, waiting room and clinical areas will be created within the central building for people with alcohol problems. This will help reduce negative perceptions associated with a service many feel are focused on drug users, whose treatment needs are felt to be different from their own. Additionally, a child-friendly area will be created to encourage parents to engage and create opportunities for mutually supportive relationships to develop, aiding recovery.

2. Breakfast club for rough sleepers:

To increase engagement with rough sleepers through a breakfast club, delivered from the central building, providing opportunities to engage people, familiarise them with the service, and promote visible recovery to inspire positive change.

3. Maximise engagement:

Convert community venues to increase points of access. A venue on the hospital site will be adapted, providing opportunities to strengthen pathways with the hospital and providing a direct route and immediate support in a non-stigmatizing environment to people at a time when they may feel more motivated to address issues following alcohol related incidents or worsening health problems. Engagement will also be enhanced by developing online support and mobile pods for use in GP surgeries etc. to engage people who are reluctant to physically attend the service.

There couldn’t a better example of the power of collaborative working across our health and care partners.

Promoting & Sustaining Staff Networks

Staff networks can be a really effective voice for Combined, supporting all colleagues to create more inclusive environment where all employees, that want to, can progress.

They offer support to employees from different groups, are an effective mechanism of workforce engagement that can provide insight into unseen barriers and devise practical, creative and commercially viable solutions to help address the systemic challenges faced by certain groups.

Put simply, effective staff networks are making work better. They are helping to change the culture in their organisations and people involved do this in addition to their ‘day job’ on the side of their desks.

The Trust has recently launched its BAME, LGBT and Neurodiversity Staff Networks. We are also keen to support the establishment of other networks where there is demand. Each Network will set its own terms of reference and agree how it will operate and keep in touch with its members. 

This can be anywhere on the continuum from relatively formal to relatively informal. Staff Networks will usually initially be ‘closed shops’ for people who identify with the group’s key characteristic (e.g. BAME, LGBT or Neurodiverse). Once established, networks may discuss widening membership to people who do not identify personally, but who wish to act as an ‘ally’ to develop inclusion and help to shape positive change. Our Staff Networks will each have a direct route to a Trust Board member. It was great to be able to pop into a fantastic event last Friday, put on by the Trust to celebrate the National Day for Staff Networks.

Developing Coaching @ Combined

Last week (29 April–5 May) was International Coaching Week – an annual week-long global celebration of the coaching profession. It was great to see the Trust marking the occasion by celebrating the qualification of five staff members in Level 5 Coaching.

  • Joanne Willis (Team Manager, Home Treatment Team)
  • Joanne Orlando (Senior Management Assistant, Adult Mental Health)
  • Marie Barley (Staff Engagement and Organisational Development Facilitator)
  • Victoria Harvey (Business Support Manager)
  • Lisa Sharrock (Mental Health & Vascular Wellbeing Service Manager)

Coaching is a powerful development tool that, through a coaching relationship, empowers individuals to explore options and find their own solutions to issues they face. Coaching is widely used in the organisation to support staff on development programmes to progress and realise their potential.

We are currently developing an organisational coaching strategy to support our growing learning culture. One the key elements is to maintain a pool of internal coaches to support leadership development within the Trust. If you are a qualified coach and would like to join our internal coaching pool, please let Michele Wilcox know via email:, ext. 2656. 

If you would like to find out more or are interested in accessing coaching or becoming a coach please go to the Mentoring and Coaching pages under Education on our Trust Intranet CAT.