Policy, politics and providers

Jan Foster writes here about the complicated maze of policy changes for the NHS, and asks the Director of Policy and Strategy at the NHS Providers about how they help to implement new policies and support their members.

It has long been a bug bear of mine that the only news which the UK general public seem to retain about the healthcare system is negative – the recent junior doctors contract, the lack of beds, the missed targets etc.

And yet there is a huge amount of positivity within the industry, new ways of working, policies driving forward change to meet evolving demand, and not least, the people who deliver the service day in, day out, with a smile on their face and a caring attitude.

I’m excited to see how new initiatives such as the Test Beds can reform delivery of care. I long for the day when the NHS takes credit and celebrates more publically when a new policy has been announced and it has achieved the dramatic change it promised in the announcement.

Navigating the maze of policy changes

The devil is in the detail as they say, so how do they keep abreast of the latest developments in easy to manage chunks of information?

To the uninitiated, navigating the maze of policy changes, forward plans, current strategies for tackling public health issues is challenging enough. I can well imagine that leaders of large healthcare organisations, tasked with juggling budgets, staff issues, targets to achieve on a daily basis, must also at some point find themselves lost. The devil is in the detail as they say, so how do they keep abreast of the latest developments in easy to manage chunks of information?

I recently spoke to Saffron Cordery, Director of Policy and Strategy at the NHS Providers, the membership body and trade association for foundation trusts and NHS trusts. NHS Providers has 95% of all trusts in membership, collectively accounting for £70 billion of annual expenditure and employing more than 928,000 staff.

Their key objective is to act as a single voice of influence and support for their members. I was keen to find out more about what her role actually involves and what they do in supporting their members with navigating the maze.

The NHS Providers and implementing policy

I asked Saffron to detail for me a little about how the NHS Providers support the UK’s largest employer in practise with implementing policy.

I asked Saffron to detail for me a little about how the NHS Providers support the UK’s largest employer in practise with implementing policy. What does a day in her life look like, as someone whose job it is to get the right information to the right people to effect a change?

“To describe my typical day,” she said, “is tricky. There is a focus on leading the team which responds to new policy announcements. We may or may not get a heads up that something is coming out from Government, but we have to respond within a very short space of time to disseminate the key implications of this down to our members.

“To do this, we provide briefings which summarize the salient issues and actions needed. For example, recently we had an announcement on mental health taskforce which we had to turn around very quickly.

“I also deliver presentations, and speak at round table discussions to represent the views of our members in more depth. We run networks for board level roles to share ideas, experiences and discuss ways of working.

“We have also consulted members on our three year strategy which works to support them. I also write articles and blogs which is a useful way of developing ideas and getting feedback.”

It sounds simple on the surface doesn’t it?

The considerations to implement a policy directive which they must take into account are vast and varied.

Get information, break it down, brief and disseminate. I know in reality it’s not. The considerations to implement a policy directive which they must take into account are vast and varied. What impact the policy might have for example on workforces, are they overlapping (and perhaps conflicting) with other initiatives or policy directives.

I asked Saffron, who comes from a background of lobbying with the LGA, whether working in the more emotive healthcare lobbying environment was challenging, stimulating or stressful in terms of getting things done?

“The role of politics is challenging” she said, “not necessarily negative. It’s an interesting point in the sector. What’s noticeable is the change of having a fixed length parliament. This impacts in planning around next parliamentary cycle.

“It builds in focus within the system, past the mid-term mark things used to start to seize up. There is additional pressure as you can’t call a snap election. Working in political environment means things have to be measured by the end of the cycle.”

Saffron spoke at the conference Health Europe on the 25 May 2016 in Westminster on the ‘Challenges of implementing policy to be effective in the UK’. If policies are key drivers for change within the sector, it surely stands to reason that the limited lifespan of the current government cycle means increasing pressures on the system to be seen to deliver rapid and effective change.

My hope is that with the right support, the NHS will have reason to celebrate its achievements and innovations outside of the political arena and take fair credit for them.

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