The outcome of co-ownership at a healthcare organisation has been a cultural belief in the notion of quality care being delivered free from bureaucratic control, as Andrew Burnell reports.

One of the major reasons for supporting our move to an independent co-owned social business was the flexibility the model offers in improving outcomes for local patients, staff and the community.

These aims would be delivered not just through being freed from bureaucratic control, but also through the flexibilities it offered to deliver engaged efficiencies and the much sought-after integration of care.

In my previous column, I wrote about our impending acquisition, which has now taken place. The whole deal took approximately four months – an impressive timescale. As such we are now the proud owners of a community pharmacy business that will allow us to deliver and improve our core service, while helping improve broader efficiencies, productivity and a locally defined supply chain. We also now have a shop front onto the world of paying consumers, and all that there is to learn from the experience.

On many occasions as we moved towards freedom, we had to defend ourselves against comments such as: how do you know you have any entrepreneurial staff?; you lack the required business skills; and you don’t have the private sector experience to be successful. As it transpires, we not only have these, but also the drive and enthusiasm to make it work for the benefit of the majority.

The exciting thing seems to be the organic and free nature of the business model to focus on the interests of quality and safe service, staff and community. It has a certain dynamic that breeds a natural culture shift, even after such a short period of time in our “for better profit business”.

What is also evident is how much more adaptable and flexible to the changing system you need to become, how much more responsive you must be to your staff’s understanding and their inclusion in their business, counter-balanced with your customers’ needs and requirements. These have become critical leadership issues.

Something is definitely different. It’s a palpable feeling, a spark and shift from the notion that rigid hierarchies will deliver the necessary change that we as staff or our patient care services need.

I believe this is helped not only by our co-ownership, but also helped by one of our stated aims, to invest in our staff as a valuable business commodity. These aims also include:

  • Our established staff sponsorship scheme to support them in undertaking voluntary work outside or inside working hours. Coupled with our continued support for local charities and groups to help build community cohesion and resilience, this seems to further develop our psychological compact with staff.
  • Our recently established academy, a partnership with Hull Business School. This focuses on building our future leaders and managers of the business while helping people understand that they are not employed for life, but employable for life.

It is also helped by what I call the “weave” of this organisation and by that I mean its penetration and recognition beyond our original defining contracts and form. For example, our continued engagement with Love Enterprise and an emerging scheme called Social Footprints, which hopes to bring on and nurture the new social businesses for the future, are crucial works and valuable for the wider economy.

I believe we are achieving the majority of this gain through the concept of distributive leadership, not through a regimented command and control structure, which we are seeing emerge.

Recently, The Innovator’s Prescription won the HSJ and Circle prize for Inspiring Innovation. In announcing the award, Circle chief executive Ali Parsa explored the topic of “disruptive innovation”. He said: “The answers are there and in the hands of those who work every day in the superb public funded services… They are those already operating inside the current system who ask the difficult questions, who challenge old assumptions, and who strive to go further and faster for their customers. In the NHS, the future will be created by the people delivering services today.”

These are not only wise words but correct in their contextualisation of what could be the true solution to the problems being faced. How sad, though, to see people you know with these skills and approach disappear in a puff of high cost redundancy payments.