May 132013
Adam Cairns

Adam Cairns

“If staff are our most important resource, how come it’s only the computers that get air conditioning?’

I heard this from the Chairman of the Institute of Directors at a recent meeting. His point was that it’s too easy to make statements like these – and that too often that’s where they stay – statements written on pieces of paper.

As organisations set up to care for others, you might think that NHS health boards and trusts would lead the way in caring for their staff. However we’ve just got our staff survey results and among the good stuff, there’s some other feedback that’s much tougher to hear.

Like most NHS Chief Executives, I’m very familiar with being at the sharp end of criticism. Over the years I’ve developed a reflex that helps when coming to terms with particularly difficult home truths. I tell myself, ‘we are where we are’, and then I focus on what can be done to improve. That’s why I welcome the findings of NHS Wales staff survey. There’s no substitute for dealing with the facts – even when you’d rather they told you something different.

Let’s start with what’s good though. Most staff recognise their role makes a difference to patients, agree that they are happy to go the extra mile when required and that the people they work with treat them with dignity and respect, that they’re trusted to do their job, including being encouraged to report errors and incidents. These are really positive statements and they give us a good foundation to build on.

However, there are other messages and for those of us in leadership positions they’re uncomfortable to hear. It would be a big mistake if we try to explain them away, or make some quick gestures and move on.

Too many staff feel communication between staff and senior managers isn’t effective and don’t feel they’re encouraged to suggest ways to improve services. They think change isn’t well managed and that senior managers won’t act on staff feedback.

Personally I’d rather not work in an environment like this – and why should any staff member?

I’m Chair of the national project board overseeing implementation of ‘Working Differently, Working Together’, the workforce strategy for NHS Wales. We’re looking to find ways to help respond to these challenging issues. There’s no doubt in my mind that we must strive to create work environments that encourage and motivate everyone to be at their best.

A happier and healthier workforce will make our task of improving the health of our populations and the care and treatment of the people we serve more readily achievable.

Adam Cairns is Chief Executive Officer at Cardiff & Vale University Health BoardTwitter: @adamcairnsnhs

Adam will be chairing one of the upcoming 1000 Lives Plus online seminars, Doctors Championing Change.

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