Making sure the right people with the right skills are in the right place at the right time is all part of the job for Excellence in Care’s Norma Dodds. Setting up a nursing staff hub as part of NHS Lothian’s response to COVID-19 has put her to the test…and has her dreaming some unusual dreams…
I used to dream of flowers. The petals, the leaves, the shapes, the structures. I dreamed of how I would put them together, arranging the colours and creating great clusters and clouds of them for displays or wedding bouquets.
Now, I dream of spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets take up my days. I have them for everything and I needthem for everything. I’m painfully aware that I never had a spread sheet for lilies. Yes, COVID-19 has changed me.
I’m NHS Lothian’s Programme Manager for Excellence in Care (EiC). For two days a week, I’m on secondment with Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS). Or I was, until the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now, back at NHS Lothian, it’s my job to help pull together the nursing and midwifery workforce plan that will help us deal with the pandemic.
“suddenly I had a few thousand staff to deploy where they were most needed, but that didn’t necessarily match where they wanted to go. This was a huge challenge as I had never been involved in this type work before. HR were my allies, keeping me right on what was and what was not acceptable to the organisation.”
Prioritisation of services to support patients meant rapid changes had to be implemented across NHSScotland, and NHS Lothian was no different. As some existing services were stepped down, staff were redeployed to other services. This all had to happen at speed, and I was the key contact for helping set up the COVID-19 Nurse Staffing Hub.
The idea was to allow managers to ask for assistance with staffing resources or to offer staff to be deployed to other services. Trying to balance requests for staff with actual people to be deployed was a bit of a juggling act, but one of my past roles was Staff Bank Manager for Nursing within NHS Lothian, so this gave me confidence to undertake the role of supporting with the employment and deployment of the workforce into areas of need.
The key to the success of safe recruitment and redeployment of staff is ensuring a robust governance process is in place and streamlining processes to support this. From previous roles, I was aware of the governance process around recruitment, but due to the rapid changes and the number of different routes into the system for staff and volunteers, I knew this role was going to test my knowledge.
A plan had been put in place for a rapid recruitment drive as soon as the pandemic started. The aim was to get people through the recruitment process in less than the normal six week timeframe. We had about 1600 applications – not all for nursing.
Then we heard NES were going to have a portal for staff returning to the NHS, so suddenly there were another few hundred potential recruits applying by that route. Add in the student nurses in year 2 and 3 that were offered an opportunity to work in NHS Boards as paid students as part of the workforce, and that was another six or seven hundred for us to deal with.
Staff from external organisations, universities or partner boards were also keen to volunteer, but they would all need to have either SLAs or secondment agreements to be safe to operate in NHS Lothian.
So suddenly I had a few thousand staff to deploy where they were most needed, but that didn’t necessarily match where they wanted to go. This was a huge challenge as I had never been involved in this type work before. HR were my allies, keeping me right on what was and what was not acceptable to the organisation.
I undertook some of the interviews over the phone. I’ve always preferred meeting and interviewing people face to face, so I found it a bit difficult. Once staff had been interviewed, their pre-employment checks completed and their induction underway I had to place them in a pool of staff per hospital or locality site, trying to ensure everyone got what they needed
My role is really still evolving. Every day something different happens and although I’m enjoying the challenge I do miss the normality of what I had before. I also miss the teaching side of what I was doing with EiC, but now I could teach anybody how to build a spreadsheet! Having Katy Haslam seconded from EiC to work with me three days a week has been invaluable – she loves a spreadsheet and has been my mentor on the process front, writing processes as we go and turning them into something that is visibly good and easy to use. I’m sure my role will continue to change as we move forward. The pandemic is something that happened and needed a quick response – we had no control over that, something that’s difficult for a control freak like me! But I’ve risen to the challenge and just got on with what has needed to be done. You could say I’ve gone from dreaming about flowers to turning over a new leaf.
Norma Dodds is Lead Nurse with Excellence in Care, part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland.