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WORK FORCE I S SUE S


Managing cultural change in a crisis


The coronavirus pandemic has magnified a myriad of challenges in the healthcare sector. While there is no magic cure, a change in culture can deliver significant benefits including reducing the effects of staff burnout, delivering a higher quality of care and increasing productivity. It is well within the remit of leaders, who can use their power to influence workplace culture and drive positive change from within, argues Phil Taylor.


Coronavirus has delivered profound shockwaves across the country. At a time when people are losing their lives, Government measures to halt the spread of the disease are adversely affecting people’s income, job security, life chances for the young and social contacts – all essential to physical health and emotional wellbeing. Many of these factors are identified by The Health Foundation (an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and healthcare for people in the UK) as the ‘five dimensions of the impact of COVID-19’. These encompass the direct impact of the virus in terms of death and serious illness; the impact on acute care for conditions that are not related to the virus; the disruption suffered by those with long-term chronic conditions; the medium to long-term impact of Government


interventions to contain the virus by restricting movement; and the long-term impacts of service capacity and resilience in the health service.1


Crisis magnifies perennial problems in healthcare


During the pandemic, the NHS, local government and local communities have really come together, reshaping their work in an effort to contain the infection and protect the most vulnerable. However, increased fatality rates (NHS England & NHS Improvement [NHSE] claim death rates among those with learning disabilities and autism have doubled during the pandemic)2 along with the extra workload resulting from delayed care for routine treatments, have put additional burdens on an already overstretched health service struggling with


squeezed budgets and not enough people. Financially, the situation has been bleak for some time. Even before the pandemic, NHSE revealed an NHS deficit of £1.3billion for the first six months of 2019-20203


and


it can only get worse. In a bid to reduce waiting lists for non-COVID care, predictions are that the NHS could spend £10 billion outsourcing work to private hospital groups over the next four years alone.4


Moreover,


staff shortages are nothing new. At the beginning of this year, there were around 44,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the UK,5


and staff burnout has always been, and continues to be, an issue. Findings from the Royal College of Nursing, who surveyed their 8,307 members, reveal that 77% work in excess of contracted hours at least once a week, while 63% feel under too much pressure at work and 61% are too busy to provide the level of care they would like.6


The value of cultural change The challenges are greater than ever before, but it is how healthcare organisations prepare themselves to tackle these challenges that will make the difference. No-one expects an instant cure-all for widespread NHS debt or staff shortages caused by factors outside our control, such as a pandemic or the imminent arrival of Brexit. How executive leaders can drive improvement is by focusing on developing their organisation’s culture, building with their staff an open, just, and empowering environment, thereby enabling their organisation to meet the challenges of the new and uncertain healthcare environment. Evidence shows that leaders who invest personally and emotionally in workplace culture can influence significant change


JANUARY 2021 WWW.CLINICALSERVICESJOURNAL.COM l 55





©Jacob Lund - stock.adobe.com


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