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The NHS needs stronger leadership from the top

By Angela Sharda
Deputy editor
21 March 2019

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The long-awaited NHS long-term plan hit our desks in January. The hefty 120- page document has a whole chapter dedicated to helping NHS staff ‘get the backing they need’. And the workforce implementation plan is scheduled to come out later this year, which can only be a good thing, right? Well, one can always hope.

It’s no secret that the NHS workforce is under immense strain, but how long will it be before the people who keep it going begin to buckle under the pressure? Surely this is a time for NHS leaders to wake up and really address the workforce challenge.

In order to improve the climate in the NHS, great leadership must prevail. But what constitutes great leadership? After interviewing many senior figures in the NHS for Healthcare Leader, I’m confident in saying that it means different things to different people.

There is no doubt that those in the top NHS roles are faced with challenges on a day-to-day basis and that, at the moment, they are probably up against the toughest challenges the health service has ever encountered.

The NHS Staff Survey, published last month, asked NHS employees what their most likely career choice would be if they left their current role. It found that 7.5% would move to a job outside healthcare and 4.3% would want to move to a job in healthcare, but outside the national health service.

But what do NHS leaders need to do to keep staff happy at work?

Crucially, they need to create a culture that encourages people to stay in healthcare; a culture that values the people who work so hard, provide excellent care, make a difference and help those in need.

NHS leaders need to look at the daily pressures staff face, including harassment, all of which are having a detrimental effect on morale. All these factors must be addressed and it is up to those in charge to make change happen.

Transforming the NHS culture will begin with the basics – creating a positive organisational environment in which employees can express their views and not feel worried about the consequences. A happier environment will help staff focus on their work, which can lead to amazing results – including a positive transformation of patient care.

But apart from a culture change – what more needs to done to deliver this objective?

Leaders are all different, but those who provide excellent leadership all have certain qualities in common: they empower, motivate and inspire; they offer their staff guidance and help them through truly challenging times.

It’s important for leaders to make the NHS workforce feel valued in their roles. Those at the top of the health service need to have a vision and know how they want their hospital or trust to function, and then motivate their staff to achieve these goals.

Leading a workforce that is already faced with so many daily challenges is no easy task, but when you join forces, anything is possible.

Angela Sharda is deputy editor of Healthcare Leader 

You can follow her at @angelasharda

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