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NHS leaders tell us what COVID taught them about collaboration and leadership

As part of our partnerships event series, we hosted a roundtable of executives from across the NHS to hear first-hand how COVID changed their ways of working and how it will impact the restoration of elective activity

Can better collaboration between trusts help us tackle the huge backlog of elective activity post-COVID?

How did COVID change ways of working and communicating across hospital trusts, and might it be for the better?

This is what we asked our round table of executives from NHS organisations across the UK.

NHS leaders tell us what COVID taught them about collaboration and leadership

They were united in the importance of collaboration, partnership, and the vital role of communication and leadership during COVID - both in the immediate response and recovery phase.

At the heart of all conversations was the vital role of cross-organisation communication, diversity in decision-making teams, and more collaborative resource planning. 

With elective activity across NHS Trusts recovering at different speeds, it has never been more important for Trusts to share their learnings. We’re thrilled to have been able to bring together such diverse voices and experiences. Here’s what we learned…


What did COVID teach us about collaboration and partnership?  

  • No organisation is an island – Health & Care organisations experienced common problems during COVID, so shared learning and collaboration became more commonplace.  
  • Need for stronger cross-organisation communication – Acute Trusts increasingly engaged with local authorities and the voluntary sector during COVID, precipitating better communication across often multiple local authorities.  
  • Importance of cross-organisation workforce agility – COVID increased emphasis on workforce flexibility, leading to the creation of a reactive and agile workforce that did not exist previously.  

Which leadership and communication approach worked best?  

  • One team ethos – The importance of creating a team spirit across the Trust, which fundamentally comes down to organisation culture. 
  • Consistency and clarity – People are fundamentally scared of change and the impact that it can have on their careers and lives, so consistently and clearly engaging with all staff (especially those on the front line) and rewarding excellence is vital. 
  • Diversity of thought in decision-making – involvement of staff in strategic decisions, such as through clinical and professional leadership groups. Actively encouraging clinical leaders to lead key workstreams such as redeployment or procurement helped build trust.  

How are ways of working changing to facilitate better collaboration?  

  • Shared modelling – Some partnerships have committed to system-wide modelling to create one version of the truth across organisations, facilitating better planning and delivery of healthcare for the local population.  
  • Workforce planning – COVID forced a changed approach to workforce modelling based on a need to understand more about the workforce, including for the first time ever, some organisations that committed to sharing resources to improve capacity.  
  • Information sharing – Initially there was a high level of anxiety about sharing information amongst organisations and work was very siloed at the local, system and national level. There is better integration and involvement since COVID, but this took work and needs to be maintained.  

Where do we need to focus our efforts moving forwards?  

  • Role of technology – Huge progress was made as a result of COVID, which accelerated the uptake of new technologies. However, systems and usage are still far from perfect.  
  • Role of the public – Looking at ways to involve the public in discussions around the best way to transform services as a result of COVID, such as through the use of ‘citizens juries’.  
  • Maintaining pathways across organisations – COVID revealed the importance of greater collaboration but the temporarily improved communication across organisations needs to be locked into transformed pathways.  
  • Maintaining unity between primary and secondary care – Integrated Care Systems are vital for this, and models need to be amended to ensure that when work shifts across boundaries, the resources move with it. 

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