Passing the peaks; longer term support for colleagues after COVID-19

Richard Mitchell profile picture

21 April 2021

Richard Mitchell
Chief executive
Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


We were pleased with the results of the NHS Staff Survey for 2020. Despite the challenges we have all faced over the last year, engagement has improved at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for the fifth consecutive year. There are 128 trusts in the acute/acute and community trust category and some of the highlights for us were; we were rated second best overall for morale, third best for quality of care and third best for "recommending my organisation as a place to work".

In 2016 only 51.8% of colleagues said they were given feedback about changes made in response to reported errors, near missed and incidents (the national average was 55.6%). This year 72.6% of colleagues reported positively about this question, which was the highest in the country, compared to an average of 61.9%.

This short blog is about longer-term support for colleagues after COVID-19 so why have I started by writing about last year's NHS staff survey? I believe the actions which have delivered significant improvements in engagement at Sherwood, will enable us to offer longer term and meaningful support to colleagues here.

I think balancing the requirements to ensure all NHS colleagues get a proper break this year whilst resuming as much non-COVID care as possible will be the greatest challenge we face in the health service.

Richard Mitchell    Chief executive

I think balancing the requirements to ensure all NHS colleagues get a proper break this year whilst resuming as much non-COVID care as possible will be the greatest challenge we face in the health service. Delivering this will be at least as great an achievement as our efforts over the last year because whilst we have shared experiences of COVID-19, we also have our own deeply personal experiences and memories which will manifest in different ways at different times for years to come. Many things are uncertain but we do already know; all colleagues need to rest and decompress this summer, waiting lists have grown, access is a marker of quality, safety and patient experience and in a world with COVID-19, providing safe care will be more challenging and slower.

At Sherwood we clearly do not always get engagement right but we try to learn when things do not go well and I believe we put people at the centre of our decision making. The following are three interlinked actions which we have focussed on to improve engagement at Sherwood and which I believe will deliver longer term and meaningful support to colleagues:

  • We have improved our understanding of and commitment to inclusion for all colleagues. Roger Kline writes in an excellent article in the BMJ "inclusion may be regarded as the extent to which staff believe they are a valued member of the work group, in which they receive fair and equitable treatment, and believe they are encouraged to contribute to the effectiveness of that group". We know that how colleagues are treated will significantly influence care provision and organisational performance. All our networks have grown in importance and influence over the last 18 months.

  • We know change is easier to deliver and more likely to work if people feel they are in charge of the change. All decisions at Sherwood are taken with the people who actually deliver the care in the room and we regularly write out to the wider organisation and seek feedback before decisions are taken.

  • We know trust dictates the pace of change. Whilst this point certainly applies to the level of trust that colleagues at Sherwood have in the organisation and the leadership team, it also applies to the ability to deliver change outside of the organisation. Over the last three years we have spent a lot of time building up trust and effective relationships with partner organisations. In particular we can now evidence the benefits of this through the Mid Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Partnership.


These three actions are all reliant on effective communication. I believe our communication was good before COVID-19 but has improved further over the last year. Weekly, personally written, short blogs continue – we have written around 200 so far. But we also now have a weekly virtual Sherwood wide catch up. The catch ups have been running for over a year and during COVID-19, the aim of them was to communicate and explain rapidly and clearly the changes we were making, such as personal protective equipment and visiting. The aim of them has now changed to introduce a wider range of voices into the conversation. We have recently had colleagues attend from all our networks and a diverse group of professions including domestics, healthcare assistants and junior doctors.

As I stated above, I believe the wellbeing of all colleagues is at the centre of our decision making, but is there any evidence that supports this?

Our 2020 staff survey results were positive and I am optimistic we will see further improvements in 2021. We have also received a lot of feedback. The following was written by a junior doctor at their end of their placement at Sherwood: "We have worked in many different hospitals, and are in regular contact with colleagues across the region. I am confident that no-one has received more support than colleagues here at Sherwood. When I am looking for jobs in future, I won't just ask 'where is the best place to work?' but also 'which hospital will give the most support, to me, as a person?' Sherwood has certainly fulfilled both of these criteria."

We know colleagues who feel supported will deliver safe care and we know all colleagues need our support now like never before.

Richard Mitchell    Chief executive

I am the first to acknowledge we do not always get things right but we have dramatically improved the support we provide colleagues, despite the challenges we have all faced. We know colleagues who feel supported will deliver safe care and we know all colleagues need our support now like never before. A relentless focus on meaningful rest and decompression for all is the only way we will be able to strengthen our offer to patients over the coming months.

Richard Mitchell will be speaking about Passing the peaks; longer term support for staff after COVID-19 at our Governance and Quality conference this year, taking place on 17-20 May. Book your free member ticket here.

About the author

Richard Mitchell profile picture

Richard Mitchell
Chief executive

Richard was appointed as chief executive of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in June 2017. He is also executive lead for the Mid Notts Integrated Care Partnership and chair of the East Midlands Cancer Alliance.

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