South Western Ambulance Service


05 / 10 / 2010

Ambulance trusts often face different HR challenges from other healthcare organisations.

Staff are dispersed in small numbers over extremely wide areas and their closest working relationship is often with the other crew member.

Although, increasingly, they may be working alone as first-response paramedics or in other healthcare settings. Call-centre staff face different pressures. 

But there are few jobs where staff so obviously feel they make a difference to people’s lives –in some cases, the difference between life and death.
South Western is one of the country’s best-performing ambulance trusts and head of HR Louise Stokes says that in large part this is down to good communication across the trust. 

‘That communication is really valued amongst the staff,’  she says.  ‘We have two weekly bulletins, including the chief executive’s and we also have an electronic staff chat room which the chief executive is usually involved in.  Staff can choose their own username and can be anonymous and they can use it to chat about anything they are concerned about, so we have had people talking about bullying and harassment in the past,’ Louise explains. 

She also stresses the importance of clinical leadership in operating across its large rural area and the Isles of Scilly:

‘Senior staff do a lot of station visits and the management team have a really open door policy,’ she says. 

All staff members are managed by a clinical support officer who is also the person responsible for carrying out staff appraisals. 

Staff at the ambulance trust have the problems all employees face, including childcare issues and caring for ill relatives. There’s praise for the trust in helping them to find a work life balance and for being flexible where possible. 

Louise says that staff who work flexibly at the trust usually structure their shifts so that they work eleven hours and then multiples of that. 

‘We do try and accommodate requests to work flexibly even though this can be difficult.’

Praising the trust one staff member says: ‘The trust has proved itself to be a modern and responsive organisation that listens to its people and empowers individuals to effect change.’ 

Development and training opportunities, working relationships between different staff groups and the chief executive are also applauded – but what stands out in employees’ comments is the sense of pride in the work they do. 

Getting the best out of staff and making them feel valued at a time when ambulance trusts face tough targets and are still coping with recent mergers is a hard act, but South Western seems to be getting it right.

Relationships with colleagues will always be important for an ambulance crew – and that is true of this organisation. 

Helping people who are in difficult situations is key to job satisfaction and there is also praise for the managerial style, the forward-thinking approach to work practices and the training opportunities. 

‘Being honest with staff is key otherwise we would lose their goodwill so we try and maintain an open and honest culture within the trust,’ is Louise's key message to other NHS organisations.

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