Published: 06/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 31

A Territorial Army recruitment exercise saw managerial as well as medical staff roped into the challenge, writes Alexis Nolan

Teams of healthcare professionals from the North West took part in the second round of the Greater Manchester Mini Hospital Challenge 2005 last month. But it was a competition with a difference.

Organised by Territorial Army medical services, the competition was part of a recruitment campaign to bring medical staff from the NHS into the TA. But for one TA member the event was an opportunity to get managerial and other staff from her strategic health authority involved.

Greater Manchester SHA recruitment and retention manager Kath Harris was in the TA for three years into her early 20s.

She left to start a family and rejoined earlier this year, aged 41. She will shortly appear before a commissioning board for promotion from officer cadet to captain.

'When I found out about the competition and that it was mainly for hospital colleagues I approached the recruitment officer to see if we could participate; after all, we are still NHS staff, ' says Kath. 'She said yes, so I got the team together.' (See box. ) Last month the nine-strong SHA team, with Kath as TA host, joined six other teams in the in the two-day competition.

After travelling to the TA's Halton training camp near Lancaster on Friday evening, there was a 6am reveille on Saturday and then a full day of activities to test the teams. These included assembling a stripped rifle and pistol blindfolded, shooting, completing an obstacle course in full nuclear, biological and chemical warfare kit - including respirator - and driving an army Land Rover through a driving course.

On the Sunday, after another 6am start the teams had to tidy their bunk-bedded accommodation and compete in an orienteering competition.

Kath says the tests helped team members improve leadership skills and their understanding of team dynamics, as well as encouraging initiative and improving confidence.

'There are a number of things that make your working day enjoyable, ' she says. 'One of them is around being able to communicate effectively with whoever is sitting next to you or you deal with through e-mail. Getting people together out of work makes them more efficient in work.

'I am not saying that everyone has to be buddies and We are all out drinking every Thursday night, but they loved the challenge. It is been the talk of the office all week. And We are already talking about forming a team for next year.' The team this year was all female, and Kath is hoping that more men and senior managers will take up the gauntlet next time.

The winner of the event - a team from the physiotherapy department at Rochdale Infirmary, and the runner-up - biomedical scientists from Royal Preston Hospital - will go forward to a final event in December.

Although you might think that the Greater Manchester SHA team did well to avoid the prospect of wintry outdoor pursuits by not making it through to the final - they finished second from last - Kath is still hoping that the team may get the wild card team spot.

And a couple of team members are thinking of following Kath in the TA's 207 (Manchester) field hospital.

www. ta. mod. uk

The Greater Manchester SHA crew Personal assistant Monica-Dawn Vaness; corporate affairs project support Carol McDermott; project support officer Emma Jane Walker; project support assistant Fiona Crick; utilisation management programme lead Gill Cooper (pictured top); associate director of capital investment and private finance initiative Kathryn Berry; development manager Ruth Evans; strategic estates adviser Carolyn Berry; and Salford University research fellow Tracey Williamson.

'Knowing each other better improves work life' Kath Harris describes herself as 'a bit of an anomaly', being driven by a desire to motivate and improve team-building.

Shortly after she joined the SHA she started a lunchtime running club - in July, Kath and six colleagues raised over£600 for a cancer charity on a local 5km run.

She says: 'The way the SHA is structured there are different teams that come together to work sometimes, but people do not always know each other that well. We now know each other better and it makes working life much more enjoyable.

'It was also good because some people were scared at the thought of running 5k - but they did it.'