Case Study

Partnership working at its best: South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Find out how South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS FT met the challenges of the pandemic, and won the SPF sponsored HPMA partnership working award.

8 October 2021


Faced with the extraordinary pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust committed to strengthening existing partnership working arrangements between management and unions; prioritising staff engagement to enable quick decision-making and effective responses to the challenges faced.  


As in every part of the healthcare sector, the COVID-19 pandemic put huge pressures on the trust. From the onset of the pandemic, the trust decided that to provide best patient care and protect the health and wellbeing of staff, partnership working would be key. 

Action taken

The trust made the following changes:

  • Meetings moved to a virtual platform, massively increasing participation and effectiveness.
  • Weekly HR and staff side meetings were set up, enabling the trust to get ahead of any potential issues before they arose.
  • Partnership working was integrated throughout management structures, up to silver command, with staff side representation on silver and bronze command, as well as other working groups in the trust.
  • Staff side involvement in restoration and recovery from the start.
  • Risk assessment processes and action planning carried out in partnership.
  • Communications agreed by all partners throughout pandemic.
  • Appointment of a full-time staff side COVID-19 lead.

These changes allowed the trust to bring together its collective expertise to make quick and effective decisions in response to the pandemic.  

The role of partnership working

In the well-established social partnership arrangements at the trust, management and trade union reps were clear about their distinct roles and the perspective they brought and that neither would compromise their integrity, with staff side retaining their position as a critical friend.

Results and benefits

Partnership working mechanisms meant that decisions were made quickly, with guidance, policy and processes agreed within days rather than months.

Strong staff engagement within the trust was helpful once the COVID-19 vaccination of staff began. 99 per cent of staff surveyed said that they felt safe or very safe in getting the vaccine.

The trust’s NHS staff survey results for 2020, the year these changes were implemented, showed that seven out of ten key themes measured had improved from the previous year. The percentage of staff that would recommend the trust as a place to work improved from 61.5 per cent to 69 per cent, above the national average. 

A new early resolution disciplinary process, developed in partnership, was introduced in August 2020. Disciplinary cases dropped from 41 in 2019 to 22 in 2020.

Sharing learning

This model can be easily applied across trusts - with a commitment to true partnership working and by leadership giving unions a seat at the table. The trust is eager to spread this partnership working in the wider system and is looking at how to best work together across the region/ICSs.

Lessons learnt from the project

  • Management and unions working together makes for faster, better decision making and policy development.
  • Regular high-level conversations allow issues to be anticipated, and quickly remedied.
  • A partnership approach leads to a more engaged workforce.
  • Management and staff side recognising the value of committing time and resources.

How the project will be sustained going forward

  • Staff side remaining engaged in strategic decision making from an early stage.
  • Joint working on key workforce initiatives such as resolution, job evaluation and policy development.
  • Continuing weekly HR/staff side meetings.
  • Continuation of joint communications and showcasing the benefits across the organisation at all levels.
  • Using staff voices and stories to improve the offer to staff, and therefore service users.

Further information

For more information contact:

Lauren Summers – Assistant Branch Secretary, UNISON South West Yorkshire Partnership Health Branch -