NHS Transformation Event Michael West - NHS-TU

Creating a compassionate culture is key to the future of NHS leadership, according to a renowned expert in healthcare organisational innovation and effectiveness.

Professor Michael West, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, told an audience of aspiring clinical and managerial leaders from across Greater Manchester that leadership is the most important influence on culture. He was speaking at the NHS Transformation Unit’s special panel event on the future of NHS leadership and emphasised that every interaction by every leader in healthcare shapes the culture of their organisations.

Professor West said: “The NHS was set up as a system expressing our core national value of compassion. Those who work in the NHS make the decision to dedicate an enormous part of their lives to the care of their fellow human beings, so we need to create compassionate cultures to deliver high quality, continuously improving and compassionate care. This will only be achieved when we have leaders who are compassionate in their leadership, at every level, from senior politicians downwards.”

He added that the four key elements of compassionate leadership are to pay attention and be present with the other person, understanding, empathetic responses, allowing the ability to help: “Then we begin to change the cultures of our organisations to embody that caring and wise, approach to the leadership of our organisations that merges professional relationships between staff and patients and between staff and their colleagues.

“When we transform cultures we will create the kind of conditions that will attract people to work in the NHS and to ensure that we have a pipeline of individuals with the knowledge, skills and abilities to lead this system for the future. The starting place for this is embodying compassionate support in the training and development of all leaders now and in the future.”

Also on the panel discussing the topic: ‘What should the next generation of NHS Leaders look like?’ were Alex Heritage, deputy chief executive of the NHS Transformation Unit; Chris Brookes, executive medical director, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust; Fiona Noden, chief operating officer, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust; and Tracy Boustead, an organisational development & HR consultant.

Alex  said that the situation for the NHS is serious but that there are choices: “If we choose to, we can make a difference. I believe we have great leaders throughout the service, but we are not retaining the very best and brightest individuals and so we have to do something different otherwise we might be sleep walking into a crisis of leadership in the NHS.

“If we have the vision, the culture and a development plan for every individual, we have a fighting chance of attracting our school and university leavers to come and have a really excellent career in the public sector because at the moment they are not coming.”

Alex Heritage also gives his view on the future of the service’s leadership and what he feels needs to be done to attract and retain talent in his blog here.

Drawing on his vast experience as clinician and director, Salford Royal’s Chris Brookes said that everyone in the NHS can and must make a difference in “the most challenging times we have ever known. We have to be resolute in our leadership to deliver the best care and reduce variations in that care.” 

He added: “Leadership needs to display clarity of the message and certainty of aim, common core values, accountability for improvement and the mind-set to deliver quality care, with resilience and support and understanding for each other.”

Fiona Noden from the world-renowned Christie NHS Foundation Trust said: “There needs to be the right investment, not only in the people coming into the service through the graduate training scheme and other routes, but also for people who currently work for the service. It’s incumbent on all of us in the NHS, in the jobs that we do, that we talent spot and mentor.”

Tracy Boustead, an HR specialist who has worked closely with several health organisations gave examples of where the service had been in danger of failing to support its staff and she issued a challenge: “To the leaders of the future, display a leadership that is so compassionate and so connected to the workforce, really understanding the space in which the people you are responsible for work, that you actually don’t need any HR processes. The challenge is that you are so proactive, care so much for those who care for others, that you protect them so they can look after other people.”

The event was chaired by the Health Service Journal’s senior correspondent, Lawrence Dunhill, who said “It is good to hear a range of views from people who are up for the challenge of making the sorts of changes that the NHS needs to make over the next decade or two.”