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Caring behind the scenes

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CCG member Ian Atkinson’s nursing background is the key to his success

The accountable officer of NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group comes from a long line of nurses. He attributes one of the reasons he became a nurse to his mother, who - also a nurse - became something of a role model to him during his training. Mr Atkinson’s youngest son is also a second-year student nurse - so it seems as though nursing is a profession that will stay in the family.

Mr Atkinson qualified in 1985 and decided to become a mental health nurse. His work in this area helped him in his role as a commissioner because he learnt what was best for not only the individual, but also for their families and the community as a whole. As an accountable officer, he is responsible for financial planning and management to ensure the best care for the population.

One of Mr Atkinson’s most vivid memories during his nursing career was his very first placement at a mental health facility.

“I saw patients who were in their 70s and 80s who hadn’t left the facility in 50 years. Patients would be unresponsive for months on end, and the first time they held their hand out and made contact as a human being was an achievement.”

Mr Atkinson’s successful interaction with hard-to-reach patients is something he still appreciates. He says: “I worked with patients that were profoundly depressed. To think I helped to change someone’s life for the better - I feel warm every time I remember those moments.”

Mr Atkinson was a mental health nurse for 10 years before working with information systems and research. He worked as head of information and director of research before becoming interested in the role of a commissioner. He explains: “It wasn’t always clear what commissioners did, I was intrigued by the idea of what ‘good commissioning’ was and the broad range of activities commissioners were involved in. It was a blank canvas.”

Mr Atkinson’s nursing experience is a significant part of his success as a CCG member. He explains: “As a member of the CCG, you must grasp the ‘big picture’, but the hugely important first principle is the commitment to patients and care that you learn as a nurse - it must be put before everything else.

“As a commissioner, you begin to see people as patients. You need to make sure you are doing what is best for families, not just one person; you need to be focused on community outcomes and use compassion to do so.”

Mr Atkinson believes teamwork is fundamental in nursing: “to define ‘nurse’, you must define ‘team’ as well”. And when it comes to his work with the CCG, he says: “We are stronger than we ever have been, but it’s not just down to me, there are a number of people responsible. Successful people gain success because of their team. It’s quite an honour leading them.”

One way Mr Atkinson organises his schedule is by choosing a theme around which he establishes his week.

“On Sunday evenings I think through the ‘theme of the week’. I plan what the theme is based on, what activities are involved and what goal that week should revolve around. Whether it be public engagement, conversations with partners, meetings with MPs and everything in between - it’s

all about conversations, and organisation is key.”

Between his family and career, Mr Atkinson has some difficulty balancing his time, which he hopes to change come the new year. However, he still wants to make an effort to help others, especially those who want to become health professionals. His advice to student nurses, or future commissioners is this: “Think widely, always be curious, and don’t be afraid to ask a daft question, because you don’t know all the answers. You must always ask, ‘how can we improve?’”

Dakota Smith

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