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Jon Restell

Our NHS depends on managers like Sandie

Tue 29 Nov 2016

MiP Conference 2016: Chief executive Jon Restell told delegates the very survival of the NHS depends on managers working under intense pressure and walking a tightrope between compassion and resources.

In his opening speech to conference, Restell talked about a day he spent with MiP member Sandie Belcher, acute care co-ordination centre manager at South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust.

“That day I spent at Springfield Hospital won’t leave me in hurry,” he said. “It affected me deeply… Acute psychiatric healthcare gives you life at its most raw, saddest, and most uplifting.

“For an outsider, it’s a very daunting thing to behold. And working in this daunting world, managing it on our behalf, are people like Sandie.”

Restell explained how Sandie and her team were working under intense pressure, “in a shabby office in a knackered building”, managing emergency admissions across five London boroughs.

“I can only describe what I felt as pride and awe,” he said. “It was like a game of 3D chess – except the pieces were real people. And I remember wondering if I could even start to do this job.”

He said Sandie’s employer even covered her job to allow her time to represent staff, “because they know a good union rep is worth their weight in gold”.

“But most of all she’s someone who keeps the show on the road, for patients and other staff. She’s one of those people who takes responsibility for others. Simply put, she’s someone who cares, someone who gives a damn.

“Most people would walk away from being a middle manager in our NHS… They couldn’t face the responsibility of making decisions which mean so much to the lives and survival of other human beings. But this what Sandie does, day in, day out.”

Restell said the NHS would depend on managers like Sandie if it was going to survive the current financial crisis and the latest round of upheavals triggered by STPs. He warned that the “same old dynamic of reorganisation – by the back door, the front door, the side door” – was back in play.

“People like Sandie will lose their jobs. The NHS will lose their skills, and will need to re-hire and plug the gaps at huge cost. And people like Sandie will lose their focus on the job in hand.”

Since 2010, the NHS has lost a fifth of its managers, Restell explained. For those that remain, he listed the many ways in which their jobs were getting harder: staff shortages, growing discrimination, less job security and flexible working, longer hours, investigations and suspensions that dragged for months or even years, a lack of training, shoddy job evaluation, frozen pay levels and high levels of bullying by managers and colleagues.

“This is happening every day in the NHS, somewhere. Our challenge is to stop it becoming the new normal.

“Great managers like Sandie are achieving some fantastic things in the NHS right now. It’s largely unreported that the NHS is doing more for patients and – amazingly – still achieving this within ever tighter budgets… Where problems are getting fixed, managers are at the heart of the solution.”

He urged MiP members to tell the stories of managers like Sandie. “Stories about real people in difficult circumstances, doing their very best for patients, are a robust challenge to the negative stereotypes of managers as bean-counting bureaucrats.”

Restell called on others to play their part in supporting managers. “System leaders and regulators – make sure you have enough people like Sandie in the system, and give them the resources and support to get on with the job. Politicians – if you can’t give her the funding, give Sandie a shout-out from time to time for the amazing job she’s doing on our behalf, walking that tightrope of compassion and resources.”

He also called on NHS employers to consider what they could do for Sandie: “Give her a do-able job, train her, listen to her, reward her fairly, and treat her with compassion and justice.”

 

Reporting by Craig Ryan

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