Have you registered your organisation for the 2010 Healthcare 100? HSJ and Nursing Times have come together with NHS Employers and the Department of Health to identify the top healthcare providers to work for in the UK. Helen Mooney looks at one of last year’s winners

South Western Ambulance Service

Top ambulance trust 2009

South Western Ambulance Service Trust was ranked the top ambulance trust in the Healthcare 100 awards and came within the overall top 100. 

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 other crew members – 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 among 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 user name 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,” Ms Stokes 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.

Ms Stokes says that staff who work flexibly at the trust usually structure their shifts so that they work 11 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,” Ms Stokes says.

The Healthcare 100, researched by Ipsos MORI on behalf of HSJ and Nursing Times, is based on the results of an exclusive poll of the employees of participating organisations. It is open to both NHS and independent healthcare providers in the acute, primary care, mental health and ambulance sectors.

Why is the Healthcare 100 important for you?

  • Discover how you rank in relation to other organisations from the public, independent and voluntary sectors
  • Raise your organisation’s profile and celebrate your staff engagement
  • Support your efforts to recruit the very best staff by being known as a top employer
  • Ascertain what your employees think of you
  • Receive a detailed feedback report on your organisation

How to take part:

  • Register your organisation before 31 December 2009
  • Complete the online employer survey
  • Distribute employee surveys to your staff
  • Return all surveys by 31 January 2010