Feedback from NHS leaders shows that improvements in skills, leadership and motivation is substantial in professionals who work abroad, writes Ben Simms
Sending NHS staff overseas is as vital to the NHS as 0.7 per cent aid contribution is to UK plc.
Pulling up the drawbridge and looking after one’s own is a debate that’s gaining pace within the certain media, spurred on by calls that the straitened NHS needs every last penny.
Such reporters would thirst for the story that along with our hard earned cash, the Department for International Development invests in programmes that send our much needed and short on supply doctors, midwives and nurses overseas, too. Fuel on the Daily Mail’s pyre that directly instigated a parliamentary debate on the UK’s spend of 0.7 per cent on overseas aid last Monday.
But sending our UK trained health professionals overseas is one of the best thing the NHS can do right now. There’s no amount of efficiency awareness training that quite cuts through as a stint in an impoverished sub-Saharan hospital.
Speaking of his time as chair of the first hospital in the country to be rated “Outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission, Mike Aaranson attests that sending his doctors to Zambia encouraged a more innovative and imaginative approach from those used to working in a more comfortable environment.
Speaking on the foreign aid expenditure debate, Conservative MP Steve Double said: “The truth is that this country gets great value for money from the aid”.
There are strong parallels with this argument to why more NHS trusts should send their staff abroad.
Independently audited data and feedback we have from NHS leaders, who invest their resources in our overseas clinician exchange programs, show improvements in skills, leadership and motivation that would be harder won elsewhere.
With the aim of creating a cadre of skilled leaders who will apply their skills on return the UK, one of our programs has led 150 NHS healthcare professionals to swap their UK role for six months of the working in Cambodia, Kenya, Nairobi or South Africa.
Since 2008, a steady stream of NHS professionals on this programe have worked on system-strengthening projects in partnership with local health care workers, contributing to improving healthcare in the local area in a sustainable way rather than providing direct clinical care.
Independently audited data and feedback we have from NHS leaders, who invest their resources in our overseas clinician exchange programs, show improvements in skills, leadership and motivation that would be harder won elsewhere
NHS Thames Valley and Wessex Leadership Academy has carried out an independent longitudinal analysis of the impact of this overseas experience on NHS professionals careers. The findings of which show an impact as long lasting and deep routed as the personal story MP Pauline Latham shared in the House on Monday, living with two abandoned Rwandan girls sharing one bowl between four in a mud floored hut for several days.
Desire for change
From retaining clinicians to stay in the NHS, to continuing to improve their clinical and leadership skills, the results attest to a seismic shift in how clinicians view their place in the healthcare system. When interviewed prior to taking their overseas placement 33 per cent said they ‘felt they were leaders’. On returning, this increased to 82 per cent.
In a questionnaire responded to by 107 of the 150 attendees, 91 per cent of respondents said the programme changed how they approached their current role. One detailed “[I am] less frustrated by system inefficiencies and [have] more desire to change them”, another “My self-awareness of my leadership and management skills has greatly increased and I am much more effective as a doctor on the ward.”
Newly qualified GP Charlie Gardiner shared with us directly about the programme that “I’ve learnt more in five months about leadership and service development, and all these really key skills, than I’ve learnt in five years in the UK.”
Health Partnership Scheme
In a detailed analysis of the skill sets improved by taking health professionals overseas, leadership is reported to be most strengthened. On questioning a representative sample of the 2,072 UK health workers who volunteered in a different exchange programme, the Health Partnership Scheme, 76 per cent reported improvements in developing leadership skills.
By opening up our minds, hearts and practice to our health professional peers overseas we are improving outcomes for patients at home
In this current global health climate, we are moving away from traditional forms of development and leaving behind old paternalistic models. To support this move, DfID has turbo charged a new model called health partnership.
These are a model for improving health and health services based on ideas of co-development between actors and institutions from different countries. The partnerships are long-term but not permanent and are based on ideas of reciprocal learning and mutual benefits
Working in this partnership-style has huge and varied impacts on the NHS back home. From the surprising finding shown by preliminary research conducted by Imperial that the imperative of need and dearth of procedures in middle to low income health economies is creating test beds of tech innovative.
To perhaps the more expected, that professionals saying time and time again, that the parred back environment brings about a crystalline focus on the power of their core clinical skills. By opening up our minds, hearts and practice to our health professional peers overseas we are improving outcomes for patients at home.
Ben Simms is CEO of Tropical Health and Education Trust