08 / 10 / 2010
This high-performing trust came eighth place in the Healthcare 100 and was also voted both top mental health trust and top healthcare employer for managers.
It is well known for its exemplary policies on flexible working, allowing staff with caring responsibilities the right to request flexible working hours.
It is also a Stonewall diversity champion thanks to its commitment to improving the working environment for lesbian, gay and bisexual staff, and has a team promoting the employment of former service users.
There are a multitude of positive comments from staff about many aspects of their working lives. “The trust is really into staff development,” says one.
The chief executive, Dr Patrick Geoghegan, is also singled out for praise by many members of staff.
"Patrick… is one of the people, not a chief executive above everyone else,” says one.
In return, the organisation obviously values its staff. It is rated excellent on both quality of care and use of resources by the Healthcare Commission and Dr Geoghegan says: “If I could add another category to the annual health check, it would be quality of staff and I know we would score excellent in that area as well.”
Assistant director of HR Karen Hussey says that the importance of staff engagement is not something new at the trust but something it has been working on for a number of years. “There are no quick wins in this; we put a lot of time and effort into being an employer of choice.”
Mental health services have traditionally been seen as a poor relation to other areas, with problems attracting and retaining staff for what is often demanding work. But South Essex has managed to turn this idea on its head. As deputy chief executive Nikki Richardson explains: “we are a high-performing organisation and our staff are very conscious of this. It can help us recruit.”
The trust is a values-driven organisation that tries to state its aims and what its expectations are of staff, including how they should relate to colleagues and patients. The trust also has an open culture with regular forums where staff can meet with the chief executive and chair informally. Staff are engaged in planning and development throughout the organisation, and senior managers have an open-door policy for staff.
There is recognition from employees that, although mental health and learning disability services are often tough places to work, the organisation is committed to improving care for patients and supports relevant innovations in service delivery. “I think we have a very inclusive culture, so everybody who works in the trust knows who the chief executive and chair are and we have not got a blame culture,” Karen Hussey says.
Staff achievements are celebrated each year with an awards ceremony at a local theatre, and the organisation is also the first mental health and learning disabilities trust to achieve university trust status.
Many of the trusts senior managers have worked at the trust and its predecessor organisations for many years and have worked their way up. A lot also come from a clinical background. One clinician says: “The trust has offered me incredible opportunities to develop my career and the service.”
Managers, as well as frontline staff, are seen as key to helping to deliver high-quality care. The trust takes management also takes development seriously, whether that is an induction session for junior managers joining the organisation (the chief executive and chair are involved) or a link with Yale University to provide a five-day residential leadership course. “You don’t need to have a massive budget to do most of this stuff,” says Karen Hussey, “it’s more about time and effort and having the support from senior managers.”