Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: reflections on the culture programme

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Ann Stringer, Executive Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, talks about why culture is important to the trust and her experiences of the culture programme so far.

Ann Stringer, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Why is culture important to Northumbria?

It’s the most important thing affecting the services we deliver to patients. We’re familiar with the work of Professor Michael West and have done other things to improve culture before, but we knew that our previous efforts were much less structured and only based on a single source of information – the staff survey.

Our chief executive and other members of the board agreed with us that it would be good to get a more holistic and comprehensive picture. There have also been external events such as Mid Staffordshire which have made us pause and reflect on how we think about our staff and concentrate our minds on how we can help them to develop. 

Why now?

Primarily because the opportunity to work with people such as Michael West arose, but also because in the current climate it’s never been more important to ensure we remain focused on providing high quality services to our patients. By focusing on culture now, we’re taking steps to ensure we continue to do this, as well as hopefully securing these standards in future years too. 

What are your experiences with the culture resources so far?

It’s been a long journey but a useful one. The diagnostics give you a macro view of what’s going on and add another level of detail to what you may already know. They may not always give you the detail you’re looking for, but that’s largely dependent on the time and resources you allocate to the work, and the tools can (and should) be adapted to your organisation’s needs. It’s also been reassuring to us that the data generated by the diagnostics correlates well with data we’ve gathered from other sources. 

What have you learned from the diagnostics?

  1. There are a lot of different leadership styles in the organisation
  2. Many of our staff would like to see more investment in their development
  3. The ‘balance’ of leadership across the different levels of the organisation is something that some of our staff are worried by

There are plenty of other things too, all of which do a very good job in keeping us grounded and on our toes! 

Were the resources easy to use?

Broadly speaking, yes. Some diagnostics are more difficult to interpret or apply than others and my advice to other trusts would be to get your board on side early on and make sure you dedicate enough time and resources to the work.

Where are you in the process now?

We’ve presented our findings to the board which has been an interesting process as they haven’t been used to hearing about areas for improvement, so initially there was some surprise about our conclusions. By the end however they were convinced and some admitted that the data did correlate with their own suspicions. 

We’re now at the early stages of the second phase. We’re excited to continue on this journey, and already we’re seeing how staff within our organisation are becoming more convinced about the importance of getting the culture right if we want to continue to improve and deliver the quality of care our patients deserve. 

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