Case Study

Partnership working during organisational change

Find out how staff networks supported University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust during a period of organisational change.

7 July 2022


During a period of transformation, University Hospitals Dorset had to ensure there would be a strong focus on inclusivity as a core value, acknowledging and celebrating workforce diversity as a newly merged trust. The trust used the NHS Employers Diversity in Health and Care Partners Programme as a springboard for resources and information, establishing strong staff networks and creating a culture of listening to understand. 

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Established six mature staff networks, with nearly 200 members that raise issues and influence change. In addition, there are micro-networks that support each other through specific topics, such as menopause and childlessness. 
  • Visible presence of diversity and inclusion across the trust’s internal and external corporate communications channels, including social media and dedicated network intranet pages.  
  • Received positive results on diversity and inclusion support in their national NHS Staff Survey results for 2021. Increased positive responses to the diversity and inclusion questions, with diversity and equality achieving the highest sub score in the People Promise element (we are compassionate and inclusive). Also scored above national average in almost all areas of compassion, diversity and inclusivity with 71.4 per cent of staff surveyed reporting the organisation respects individual differences.   
  • Through networking with other NHS organisations and their own staff networks, the trust has procured keynote speakers and specialist training for all staff including: reverse mentoring, inclusive decision making, neuro-diversity awareness, deaf awareness, gender identity workshops, LGBT and disability awareness sessions.

What the organisation faced

The process of merging two established trusts can be unsettling and difficult for teams and individuals, the trust wished to cultivate a culture of inclusion using the support, resources and connections provided by the NHS Employers Diversity in Health and Care Partners Programme.

Their aim was to connect cross-site colleagues by building their staff networks, to educate colleagues about the importance of diversity using influential and recognised voices from across the two trusts. The merger also took place against the backdrop of the pandemic, placing an unprecedented strain on the organisation.

Promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion was integral to ensure that staff felt supported and listened to as they faced consistent operational pressures.

What the organisation did

Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals (RBCH) had been members of the NHS Employers Diversity and Inclusion Partners Programme since 2018. In October 2020 Poole Hospital and RBCH merged, providing an ideal opportunity to use what the learning from the programme as a springboard, placing diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the merger.

Their networks evolved through a process of listening to the voices of individuals and groups wanting to raise awareness of their lived experience and coming together to support others with launch events in their staff restaurants.  

The networks now have dedicated intranet pages and email inboxes, regular meetings and events and they celebrate important dates from the inclusion calendar. These have included Trans Remembrance Day, Disability History Month, Purple Light Up, LGBT+ History Month, Chinese New Year, Diwali and Armed Forces Day.

They ensured from the start that the networks had strong links with their communications team, who supported by sharing messages from the networks to the wider hospital audience. In turn, the communications team are also able to discuss culturally sensitive messaging, such as the conflict in Ukraine, with network leads, to ensure the corporate messages shared are representative of the lived experiences of their network members and their connections.

The trust values as a merged organisation state that they are caring, one team, listening to understand, open and honest, always improving and inclusive. Encouraging all our staff to engage with these values further established their stance on diversity and inclusion as they moved forward. They embed these values into internal and external communications, meaning they are able to share and support a variety of events, awareness days and occasionally more personal stories from staff.

During the pandemic the staff networks provided invaluable support and information to one another, and a route for their executive team to reach out to those who may have been adversely impacted. Some examples of this collaboration include:

  • Guiding the organisation with the COVID-19 risk assessment process for ethnic minority staff.
  • Providing support and guidance to the organisation for European nationals and the EU Settlement Scheme and Brexit.
  • Developing resources and online training to raise awareness of the impact of mask wearing on the deaf community (staff and patients).
  • Applying for funding to support an armed forces community advocate post.
  • Hosting listening events and drop-ins for network members.
  • Delivering wellbeing packs and food to newly arrived international nurses.
  • Peer support to other networks/trusts and development of wider networks.
  • Holding celebratory and educational events virtually, attracting national speakers.
  • Representing their networks on the recruitment carousel for the new chief executive officer.

Having influential and recognised voices at the helm of these networks raised their visibility across the trust and beyond. Recognition of the work the network leaders and members undertake has been a priority. Self-development is encouraged and supported with specialist workshops on developing staff networks, how to establish network aims and objectives, and presenting with impact.

One of their network leaders who is passionately committed to their network and colleagues is Minnie Klepacz. Minnie was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2021 for her service to support ethnically diverse colleagues during the pandemic and beyond.

Overcoming obstacles

The main obstacle faced was giving networks and their leaders time to complete network duties alongside their usual roles. Establishing the aims and objectives of the networks takes time. This can take several meetings to get right and it can be frustrating when time is a precious commodity.

University Hospital Dorset has committed to protected time for network leads, equivalent to that given to trade union representatives. This is welcomed, however, it is not always possible to implement for those in specialist roles or where resources are stretched.

While the development process takes time, it is essential to ensure that network leaders and members understand both their role and the most productive way to encourage change across the organisation.

Takeaway tips

  1. Go with the energy - support people who want to be involved in networks and promoting diversity and have a drive to make a difference. This allows the network to grow organically.
  2. Understand the need for staff networks and be willing to learn from them. Networks allow for the sharing of cultural and personal knowledge, and sometimes lived experiences will require the organisation to act. Turning a negative lived experience into a positive change shows the value of the network and shows the organisations dedication to improvement.
  3. Give your networks a public voice by integrating their work into wider communications strategies and partnership working. This shows to current and future employees that you care what individuals have to say, and highlights to patients that they are being cared for in an environment of inclusivity.
  4. Remember to recognise and develop the skills of your network leaders. New skills are transferable, and recognition enhances personal profiles, which is all helpful in raising confidence and furthering careers. 
  5. Connect with and learn from other trusts and organisations, share resources with your Integrated Care System, and create a two way communicative relationship with organisations who are influential to you, or who wish to learn from you. The NHS Employers Diversity in Health and Care Partners Programme opens up opportunities to network across wider NHS systems, connect with national platforms and forums and provides access to specialist resources and case studies.
  6. Develop an inclusion calendar so everyone can see important dates and events through the year. This means the organisation is prepared for awareness days in advance, and through them teams and colleagues can develop their understanding of different cultures and lived experiences.


Further information

For more information about the work in this case study, contact Debbie Robinson. Diversity & Inclusion Lead, University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust at

Learn about the NHS Employers Diversity in Health and Care Partners Programme and apply for the 2022/23 programme which starts in September 2022.