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“NHS staff already know how to improve things – we just now need to give them a voice.” So says Nicola McQueen, CEO of NHS Professionals – the largest temporary staff supplier to the NHS (which provides just over 3.5 million clinical hours every month) – and CEO of Doctors Direct, the locum service for NHS Professionals. She is also non-executive director of ImproveWell. Here she shares her experience of mobilising huge swathes of staff during the pandemic and talks NHS staff retention with Lara Mott and Na’eem Ahmed.

“Nobody warned me in my interview that I was about to lead a business through a pandemic!” To say Nicola was thrown into the deep end (after just five months on the job) would be an understatement. But good things happen in hard times, as she tells us. And after 20 years in staffing strategy, she found there was still more to learn.

At first, a vigorous sense of mission was more crucial than ever – and at NHS Professionals this was getting as many workers to the frontline as quickly as they possibly could. “Anything unrelated that may have been happening in the business at the time was stopped immediately,” explains Nicola. But on top of this, efficiency needed to rocket, and empathy brought to the fore. There was a feeling of connectedness in that everyone was throwing themselves at the cause. But, as Nicola points out, “we’re not all in the same boat, we just happen to be sailing in these same unpredictable seas”. Nicola’s mission became about “promoting honesty, integrity, accountability,” as well as making the organisation “agile, flexible, fast and creative”.

As she relates her experiences, find out why:

  • welcoming and celebrating staff is about more than paying lip service;
  • empathy in leadership is more important than ever;
  • the ‘sprint then fall off the cliff’ mentality is lethal – downtime needs to be in-built;
  • we do need to sweat the small stuff;
  • technology is important in the journey;
  • building in long-haul energy is a long-term goal; and
  • looking after the workforce is a key priority.

“We’ve got a huge responsibility to try and keep hold of all of those people that stepped up through the pandemic.” Everybody has got staff retention at the forefront of their mind with the huge labour shortage the NHS is facing. “I think that making sure that we’re addressing staff experience is just more important than ever now,” she says.

Plus, discover a no-brainer of a Small But Mighty idea, which has saved a lot of time and frustration.

Show notes:

Learn more about ImproveWell

Connect with Nicola, Na’eem and Lara on LinkedIn

Follow Nicola on Twitter


For questions or to provide feedback on this episode, please email: theimprover@improvewell.com

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