Saffron Cordery visits Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

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19 April 2024

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
NHS Providers

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is a combined mental health, learning disability and community trust, sitting across two integrated care systems (ICSs). Its board, led by chief executive Julian Emms, supports innovative cross-organisational, system partner work, focused on 'top-down clarity and bottom-up agency'.

Part of the ICS' core offer is a hugely impactful urgent community response virtual frailty ward. A care pathway in itself, it operates from 8am to 8pm, 365 days a year. Since opening in April 2023, 82% of referrals have been accepted, with a c.90% admission avoidance; an extremely welcome impact.

Any healthcare professional can refer to the ward – this includes ambulance staff and carers. Staff turnover on virtual wards is notably low; the work gives plenty of opportunity for autonomy and career development. In practice, this means the trust has reduced its temporary staffing in this area, and seen rapid career progression for virtual ward staff.

While challenges around national direction and funding exist, the trust is working to expand and enhance this offer, which is a really interesting one to watch. Another futureproofing initiative is the trust's use of intelligent automation (tailor-made software that can do non-cognitive thought work in front of a computer). So far this has saved 64,500 working hours for the trust.

A recent example was the implementation of the statutory requirement to contact parents of babies at three and six months. In just 12 weeks, the robot sent information to more than 1700 people.

The admin team was so impressed by the time saved that it then looked at how to streamline other services. It took over rostering duties from the head of health visiting, which allowed her to open a drop-in breastfeeding clinic, as her managerial capacity had been freed up.

This has made staff more available to patients and helped admin staff focus on fulfilling work.

These are just two examples of the impressive work I was shown, all rooted in providing excellent patient care. All of this stems from the trust's approach to culture, which the board told us is the area they are most proud of. With the innovative work I saw, consistently high NHS staff survey results, and stable leadership, this pride seems entirely justified.

About the author

Saffron Cordery profile picture

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive

Saffron has been NHS Providers deputy chief executive since 2018, and between June 2022 – February 2023 was interim chief executive. She has worked in the healthcare sector since 2007. Read more

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