About Sandwell Mental Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust
Sandwell Mental Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (Sandwell MH & SC NHS FT) comes under the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority region and employs just over 1000 staff. It has operated as a foundation trust since February 2009. Sandwell MH & SC NHS FT is the major provider of mental health and hospital-based learning disability services to the people of Sandwell, incorporating adult, older adult, CAMHS, substance misuse services, and provides specialist learning disabilities services. These services are provided in a variety of settings, across the borough including formal health sites, in the community and in people’s homes and cover a population of 283,000.The trust also provides services to people who live outside of Sandwell in neighbouring Boroughs and specialist mental health services to people from the wider Black Country and parts of Birmingham.
Partnership working at Sandwell
Since 1995, the trust had a traditional consultative framework with monthly, management-led, meetings with staff side, chaired by the chief executive. This framework was used to consult over the development of the organisation as a Care Trust in 2003 and was also used in numerous examples of service redesign.
In 2006/07 in response to the ‘Shared Governance and Staff Involvement’ agenda the need to empower staff was jointly recognised with staff engagement and involvement being ‘managed by staff for staff’.
As a change from the traditional consultative committees that the trust had in place, a staff forum was set up. It is chaired by the staff side lead and invites directors and other managers dependent upon the issues being raised at the time.
In 2007 the role of staff side lead was developed, still an elected position, but on a three year secondment to give some permanency to the partnership arrangements. This has helped in:
- the review of existing arrangements
- increasing the number of staff representatives and facilities throughout the trust
- ensuring that staff involvement is in the heart of the trusts operation and ongoing development.
Other policies that have underpinned partnership working include:
- staff side sit on the interview panels for new executive directors
- improved communication links, including dedicated staff side intranet forums, localised staff side surgeries and representation at all directorates in all business planning
the development of a staff side business plan to support the trust’s business plan
- staff side managing the annual staff survey which includes reporting findings to management, the development of a presentation brief to disseminate to all staff as well as developing associated action plans to the trust board
- staff side accredit their own representatives (rather than applying to the trust).
In June 2006, the new employee relations and staff involvement governance arrangements were presented to the trust board by staff side and management . Once implemented they became the partnership agreement, which covers:
o local pay associated terms and conditions
- consultation and communications
- policy review and development
- staff engagement with trust board
- medical local negotiating committee.
The agreed paper for the new employee relations and staff involvement governance arrangements also included agreeing the terms of reference for the new staff forum.
Staff side and the staff survey
The fact that staff side implement the staff survey has led to a very good response rate, averaging around 60 per cent. It also helps to overcome a concern that staff may have had with the motives of the survey or the use of the information obtained.
The results of the staff survey are fed back to staff side who then arrange for feedback to staff and managers. On the back of the results, the staff side lead puts together a paper which is presented at the board, with executive sponsors for all the key areas that have been identified in the report. This also forms the basis of a staff side business plan which highlights areas to focus on over the coming months.
The development of partnership working has improved employee relations and has enabled the management of change and local services initiatives to be handled sensitively, with staff feeling both informed and supported.
The involvement of the staff side lead in meetings at middle management level has led to a change in the role of staff representatives, where they are embedded in the change process, rather than responding to it, by ‘seeking a meeting with the chief executive’ after changes have been proposed. It has also increased the confidence of management in working closely with staff representatives and sharing sensitive information with them.
“How we have dealt with organisational change is a good example of partnership working. Recently there are been changes to our residential homes, where management and staff side have worked closely in partnership to ensure staff have been fully consulted, kept informed and supported throughout the process”
Steve Francis – acting Staff Side Lead
Top Tips from Sandwell
For successful partnership working:
- do not copy the same framework as other NHS organisations - partnership has to evolve, it cannot be transported through a structure
- when an NHS organisation adopts a staff centred approach, staff side will respond in a pragmatic way ensuring good staff relations
- develop strong partnership arrangements at all levels within the organisation
- share practice and gain a greater understanding of the issues and challenges faced by management and staff side, work jointly to find solutions and deliver objectives
- ensure that the board, directors and management recognise the need to invest in staff side to ensure capacity for their involvement
- partnership involves team working, rather than an obsession with status.
and what to avoid:
- do not see partnership working as a project - it has to be more than that - a change of culture
- don't just do the rhetoric of partnership - follow it up with actions and support
- don't get stuck in structures and the ‘status quo’, be radical if necessary
- partnership is not passive, do not worry about some tensions, these can motivate change.
Further information and contact details
For more details regarding partnership working at Sandwell Mental Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust contact: