Bringing NHS IMPACT to life: What executives can focus on now

Wendy Korthuis-Smith profile picture

19 January 2024

Wendy Korthuis-Smith
Executive Director
Virginia Mason Institute

NHS IMPACT is taking root across the nation's trusts and practices, with many executives both eager to do their part and unsure of where to start.

A few months ago, I joined a panel including Professor Andy Hardy, chief executive, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust; Adam Sewell-Jones, chief executive, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust; and Dr Gary Kaplan, former Virginia Mason chair and chief executive to share insights with 150 leaders from across the English NHS and learn more about their challenges.

Chiefly, they wanted to understand:

  • the role of a leader in delivering a quality management system
  • how to create psychological safety for all their people
  • how to stay resilient and motivated in the long term.

Seizing the opportunity to lead differently

Adapting new leadership behaviours is a focus of NHS IMPACT, but most leaders are so busy they can't fathom taking on new responsibilities or unlearning old habits.

When leaders say they are "too busy", it's often with tasks that don't use their time and skill most effectively. What if we excused ourselves from those tasks? That hasn't always been the case but we're in a new paradigm. NHS IMPACT is your green light: reorganise your job to spend time on what matters most.

To counter exhaustion, leaders can surround themselves with fellow champions of change. When the Virginia Mason Institute supported five NHS trusts in creating new management systems, we gathered monthly with their chief executives and NHS officials to share stories, challenges and advice. Executives found the group so invigorating that we're resurrecting the idea this year with a larger international cohort.

Paving the road to psychological safety

With staff burnout and shortages stretching everyone to the limit, healthcare teams need a workplace that feels safe and rewarding. Now is the time for executives to seed a healthier culture through civility, empathy and respect.

How? By defining the values and behaviours that enable constant improvement and making them part of daily interactions and conversations. Words on a poster aren't enough. Values come alive when we're committed to talking about them, celebrating when they're upheld, and acknowledging when they're lacking.

Sparking big changes with small improvements

No one expects the entire NHS to change overnight but no one has to wait years for results either. Find small things you can improve now, and use that progress to inform and inspire further improvement.

For example, the fracture clinic at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust addressed one of the UK's biggest healthcare challenges appointment backlogs by converting more than 60% of emergency department referrals from in-person visits to virtual care plans. Patients were satisfied, wait times went down and quality didn't suffer a bit.

Remember: you're building something special

NHS IMPACT is the blueprint for an astonishing transformation. Keep that in mind when the going gets tough. By prioritising quality, safety and improvement across the entire system 1.6 million patients per day you're not just making an impact. You're making history.

To learn more about bringing NHS IMPACT to life, explore our case study of real-world examples.

Contact the Virginia Mason Institute.

About the author

Wendy Korthuis-Smith profile picture

Wendy Korthuis-Smith
Executive Director

Wendy provides leadership and oversees the development of new products and services to strategically assess, identify improvement opportunities, develop and implement transformation and transition plans, and continually evaluate continuous improvement for clients worldwide. Wendy holds significant experience developing and implementing large scale transformation and transition plans. Wendy came to Virginia Mason Institute from Deloitte Consulting, and spent several years prior with the Washington State Governor’s Office where she led state government transformation through the development and implementation of Results Washington.

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