Retirement loomed for June Wylie, but little did she know that COVID-19 was about to disrupt her final months and give her one last challenge …

At the beginning of this year, as my retirement from my post as Head of Improvement Support with Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s ihub approached, it was understandable that I was in a reflective mood. But at that point in time, I most definitely didn’t foresee my final months being thrown into turmoil by a health pandemic that has disrupted every element of life in Scotland.

Instead, my intended period of handover and winding down turned out to be one of the most stressful, but satisfying periods of my career.

Being involved in establishing NHS Louisa Jordan, a brand new emergency hospital in an exhibition centre, at a furious pace was challenging to say the least. My job was to lead on the planning for the AHP workforce and services including Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Dietetics and Speech and Language Therapy.

“Within Healthcare Improvement Scotland and across our health and care system we have seen the most amazing response to COVID 19, with staff being prepared to rapidly change their routines and practice, and going the extra mile to support service priorities and ensure delivery of essential care. The opportunity to let go of old practices and embrace new and innovate ways of working has never been greater.”

In many ways, this took me back to my roots. I couldn’t have done the work without the support of a whole range of people including AHP Directors from across the west of Scotland. Despite very challenging working conditions, I was impressed by the good nature, willingness to help and the pragmatic ‘can do’ attitude of so many people.

Within Healthcare Improvement Scotland and across our health and care system we have seen the most amazing response to COVID 19, with staff being prepared to rapidly change their routines and practice, and going the extra mile to support service priorities and ensure delivery of essential care. The opportunity to let go of old practices and embrace new and innovate ways of working has never been greater. Now that retirement is here, I will watch with interest how Healthcare Improvement Scotland, and health and social care in general, embrace the opportunity to adopt and adapt to new ways of working.

A young June Wylie starting out her career as an OT.

Hospital At home

The COVID-19 response also touched upon a project dear to my heart that was the last piece of work prior to the pandemic: Hospital At Home.

The rapid production of the Guiding Principles on Hospital at Home was exciting and an excellent example of how the range of skills and expertise across our organisation can come together to create a high quality product. The timing for this guidance couldn’t have been better as COVID 19 has brought home the urgent need for us to transform the way we deliver services and truly shift the balance of care. 

At last … time for reflection

As I now approach the final days of my professional life, I’m finding some time to ask myself where the past 39 years have gone and how did I get to have the career that I’ve had? How did a wee girl from a small village in the West of Scotland end up working in a range of senior and national roles, including Scottish Government?  

I started my career as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in 1981 and worked in Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow before moving to Ayrshire and then Edinburgh in 1985. I spent eighteen years working in NHS Lothian as the Head of Occupational Therapy and then as Divisional Therapist for Medicine before taking on a general management role in Acute Medicine at the Western General. My overarching memories of my time at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) was that of constant change and adaptation, hospitals were closed and merged, clinical areas were improved as we moved from Nightingale wards to four bed areas and single rooms, and the pressure on hospital beds and delayed discharge just grew and grew. The resilience of staff to deal with daily staffing pressures and constant change never ceased to amaze and impress me. In some ways then, our national response to COVID-19 hasn’t surprised me!

“As I now approach the final days of my professional life, I’m finding some time to ask myself where the past 39 years have gone and how did I get to have the career that I’ve had? How did a wee girl from a small village in the West of Scotland end up working in a range of senior and national roles, including Scottish Government?”

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty unremarkable OT who just did her job as well as she could, but as I reflect on my career I realise that I was at the forefront of a number of changes and improvements that are now routine practice. I, along with a fellow OT, were the first women to be allowed to job share at the RIE in 1992, a request which required permission from the Board of Directors!  We were the first OT department in Scotland to move to seven day working and the first to have Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists working in the Acute Receiving Units and A&E. Despite the challenges in making some of these changes happen it was the recognition by staff that if services and outcomes for patients could be improved then the change to their own ways of working was worth it.

The importance of people

As I reflect on my career and some of the key milestones the thing that comes to mind the most are the people. The psychology and human dimensions of change have always been an area of interest for me, and even now as I reflect on the next stage of the life I’m drawn to William Bridges work on Transitions and the psychological process we need to go through to adapt and change.

Bridges believes that every new beginning has to start with an ending. The need to let go of old ways of working brings with it uncertainty and anxiety and yet it is only by letting go and ending that we can create new ways of working and beginnings.

His framework resonates with me not just on a personal basis as I end this phase of my career, but also as we enter a new reality for health and social care services.

I am immensely proud to have worked in the organisation for the past seventeen year and from my first day to now I am impressed by the skills and expertise of staff across the organisation and the potential for HIS to play a key role in helping to transform health and social care across Scotland.

So in ending the key learning and reflections from my career, my main piece of advice is to pay attention to people and relationships. Be kind to each other and value the tremendous skills, and expertise we have within our organisation and the tremendous opportunities ahead.

As I enter my own period of transition, I’m looking forward to adapting to a new rhythm of life and simply seeing what comes. I wish you all well and I hope our paths will cross again.

June Wylie has now retired from her post as Head of Improvement Support, Living Well in Communities and Professional Lead Allied Health Professions with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

More information

Visit the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website for information on our response to COVID-19.