More than just a job

Author: Dr Rick Fraser, chief medical officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
More than just a job
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At a time that’s particularly challenging for the NHS, it can be hard to image the attraction of working for it. Dr Rick Fraser, chief medical officer at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, describes the far-reaching benefits of what is not just a job.

Who’d want to be a psychiatrist?

Psychiatry is a complex speciality. Reaching a diagnosis can be difficult. There’s no guarantee any given intervention will be effective. Patient outcomes are often difficult to determine.

When you put all this together with the pressure of working within a stretched NHS, you might be forgiven for thinking the recruitment pitch to potential psychiatrists might be a tricky one. So how do we make it?

For me, the answer is all about people.

It’s true there are no easy answers to the challenges we are presented with. That makes the clinical day job demanding and sometimes frustrating. But the flip side is that, by putting our clinical expertise and experience into practice, mental health professionals have the privileged opportunity to make a difference to the lives of the vulnerable people under our care.

A big buzz of the job is being part of a multi-disciplinary team which draws on expertise from a whole range of professions – nursing, social work, psychology, pharmacy, and occupational therapy to name just a few. Everybody brings a different perspective to the table. And, when we’re working really well together with patients and families, this enables us to develop a bespoke plan of care that can help people gain control of their lives and their recovery.

Moreover, despite the operational pressures, this is a really exciting time to be working in mental health. Over the last 40 years we’ve made the transition from a system of care dominated by institutions to one more focused on caring for people as close to home as possible.

At the same time there has been a growing recognition of the need to move beyond a paternalistic model of care to one that looks at the whole person and all their needs, where coproduction is the absolute norm.

The voice of patients and carers is therefore - quite rightly - becoming much more powerful. And we are beginning to get to grips with the need to look at the mind and body together, rather than approaching physical and mental health as separate entities which are then treated in organisational silos.

Things are certainly getting better. However, I wouldn’t for a moment suggest everything is perfect. There is a lot we need to continue improving. Our services our experiencing significant and sustained demand, all year round. Staff feel the strain of a system under pressure.

And there’s no getting away from the workforce recruitment challenge we face across health and social care. At Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation, our #notjustajob campaign helped us recruit 150 new nurses in a year and reduce our agency staffing bill from £1 million a month to about half that. Today, we’re extending the recruitment campaign to medical staff and are releasing our own film, which you can see here.

But there’s a broader workforce message I want to make (rather than just plugging our own recruitment campaign). At a time when public debate often feels quite divisive, I worry about our staff who are directly affected by the Brexit negotiations around the UK’s planned withdrawal from the European Union (EU).

In this context, it’s really important to assert at every opportunity that the diversity of our NHS and social care workforce is something to be celebrated, cherished and retained.

We also need to continue focusing, relentlessly - as a health and social care system and as a society - on creating the conditions where every individual feels valued, respected and supported.

Our NHS and social care services are quite literally the people who work within them. Valuing our workforce is a vital part of responding to our recruitment and retention challenge. It’s also crucial in terms of delivering the NHS Long Term Plan and continuing to make a difference to the lives of patients and families.

This opinion piece was first published on NHS Voices, the NHS Confederation's blog for NHS leaders.