The Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust won the 2018 HSJ Award for Trust of the Year with a vision that put staff engagement at the heart of driving better patient care

In 2015, the Care Quality Commission conducted its first inspection of Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust. The verdict: requires improvement. Recruitment and retention of staff was identified as a particular issue, with the quality of services characterised as “patchy”.

Three years later representatives from the trust were celebrating being named Trust of the Year at the HSJ Awards, a victory which came hot on the heels of an outstanding rating from the CQC. 

According to Angela Hillery, chief executive at the organisation, it has been “a journey” to go from the 2015 to 2018 version of the trust.

Continuing effort

“And the journey’s been about the culture – the culture has been really important. And what I mean by that is that we’ve focused a lot on staff,” she says. “Staff are our biggest asset.”

That means continuing effort to engage teams more comprehensively in the trust’s overall vision. Five countywide events were held to create a refreshed strategy for the organisation, for instance.

“We focus very much on creating the right environment so people can flourish, can feel cared for, feel valued,” explains trust chair Crishni Waring.

There is evidence those efforts are yielding results. In a 2016 staff survey, only 57 per cent of respondents said they would recommend the organisation as a place to work. By the end of 2017, that number had increased to 73 per cent – making the trust the top performer of its kind on this metric.

Recruitment and retention has also significantly improved. Agency spend has dropped, with a vacancy rate that today sits under 10 per cent.

For Ms Hillery, the win at the HSJ Awards is one contributing factor to such improvements. “Winning awards does make a big difference,” she argues. “Morale is clearly boosted, and rightly so – people start to believe that they are doing good things.

“But of course what we also get is a real profile out there, and that profile does attract people. Workforce is one of the biggest issues in the NHS, and we’ve been able to reduce vacancy rates. I sit on our consultant [interview] panels, and people talk about what they’re hearing and seeing about NH FT – and awards are a part of that.”

No doubt potential recruits are also impressed by the likes of a redesigned partnership-focused mental health crisis pathway said to be reducing acute admissions; Ms Hillery’s leadership of the local sustainability and transformation partnership; the achievement of financial targets, with the control total actually exceeded; the trust’s new facility offering repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment resistant depression; and a crisis house said to have delivered £800,000 savings in acute admissions.

Certainly all caught the eyes of the HSJ Awards judging panel and led to a win that Ms Hillery describes as a “a very special moment for all of us”.

Recruitment and retention has also significantly improved. Agency spend has dropped, with a vacancy rate that today sits under 10 per cent

And she and her colleagues say it’s a moment which has brought continuing benefits – not least the ability to spread best practice within the system.

“It allows us to present to other areas, to engage with other trusts and be trusted as an exemplar for mental health services and services as a whole,” reports Adam Smith, community services manager at the trust.

For the organisation’s chair, the award was the “icing on the cake” following the CQC outstanding rating. “It’s external validation, and a really prestigious award that everyone in the NHS recognises.”

Chances are most people in the trust recognise it too: the award toured the organisation. “It was lovely to see people being photographed with it and sharing that moment,” says Ms Waring.

Read Northamptonshire’s winning entry here

The 2019 HSJ Awards are now open for entries. For more information visit