Having started with NHS Providers just a month before its annual conference and exhibition (ACE), much of my time so far had been working toward the flagship event. ACE had become similar to that of a distant relative or friend of a friend. You’ve never met them, but everyone around you has a story about them.
Attending my first conference, it was brilliant to see how everyone’s hard work had come to fruition. Walking through the exhibition hall for the first time and seeing the wide variety of providers, services and businesses present at ACE, brought home not only how big our conference is, but the dedication that goes into it and why it is a must-attend event for NHS leaders delivering front line care.
I asked some of my colleagues who also attended for the first time to help reflect on the event. Programme administrator Maisie Jenkins also found the scale of the event to be a highlight. She said: “It was so fantastic to see the exciting and innovative parts of the NHS, driven by passionate staff, in a time where much of the media focuses on pressures and challenges faced by the NHS, particularly given the upcoming winter and Brexit."
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the conference is the passion the delegates and speakers brought to their sessions. This year, ACE featured over 50 delegates - including plenary, breakout and satellite session speakers, panellists and chairs from a variety of professional backgrounds across the NHS and provider sector. Alongside various speakers from trusts, we also heard from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, NHS Improvement chair Dido Harding, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and former Number 10 press secretary Alastair Campbell, amongst countless others.
Both the plenaries and breakout sessions focused on a wide range of topics that all have pressing importance in the running and culture of the NHS – encouraging attendees to engage in further conversations and debates, to implement a collaborative approach to their work. This truly reflected this year’s theme of ambition to reality.
Our sessions also featured discussions and Q&As to create opportunities to connect those who may not necessarily be in contact with one another. Policy assistant Yasmin Al-haboubi highlighted: “The plenaries are super interesting, and I really enjoy the discussions as you’re able to see how different people bounce off each other”.
In addition, head of policy and analysis Isabel Lawicka, who had her very first day with NHS Providers at ACE, reflected: “ACE was a fantastic introduction to NHS Providers – from the high calibre of speakers and interesting debate, to the smooth-running of events and behind-the-scenes efficiency. The discussions felt very timely in terms of the current issues being faced by trusts, providing our members with both practical guidance and food-for-thought to take back to their organisations”.
I completely agree with my new team member, communications officer Ellie Gomes, who said that the breakout session on inclusive leadership chaired by our deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery was an absolute highlight of the conference. The session focused on how a diverse workforce, set by leaders and boards of organisations, improves organisational culture, staff retention and better care for patients. Not only did the personal accounts of the speakers make this session incredibly memorable and emotive, but also it was good to hear how change can be delivered in practice.
Ultimately, ACE is an opportunity to learn and to collaborate. As chief operating officer Mark Stevenson concluded: “It wasn’t my first conference of this type from the organising side but it was certainly the best. For me the huge standout from the event was the sense of one team that the conference exhibited in spades. The conversations that I was part of - or that I overheard - and the debates and discussions at the event were all about how all of our members are trying to pull together to deliver excellent patient care and outcomes, working together, sharing ideas, and generally supporting each other to deal with all of the current challenges they face.”
Mark added: “Internally everybody at the event really pulled together to support each other in all the activities needed to make the event happen. We forgot about our roles and job titles back in the office and all got stuck in together to deliver, what everybody seems to be saying, the best NHS Providers conference ever.”
Seeing such a large number of NHS leaders and stakeholders learning from each other, networking and going on to form new ideas and strategies which will benefit their patients and service users, their staff and the NHS as a whole really brought home how important the event is, and why it’s needed.
Next year’s annual conference and exhibition is already scheduled in our diaries for 6-7 October 2020 in Manchester, and I hope it is in yours too.