Despite the tough challenges ahead, Janice Stevens still gets a buzz from meeting people on the wards
“I like a challenge and that is my thing, I guess,” says Janice Stevens, commenting on why she left Europe’s largest trust, Barts Health. She’s headed straight to Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust to become its interim chief nurse, which has a similar set of challenges, though on a smaller scale.
“Before I took on the Barts interim chief nurse role, it had been 10 years since I had worked in a trust, but I had worked with a lot of trusts and stayed connected to the challenges,” she explains.
Her roles under the former chief nursing officer for England, Chris Beasley, at the Department of Health, were indeed about mucking in and getting things done. She worked on three high-profile programmes to reduce MRSA and C difficile, and eliminate mixed-sex accommodation, the success of which led to Ms Stevens receiving a CBE in 2010.
“I like a challenge and that is my thing, I guess”
She went on to become managing director at Health Education England, recognising the bigger issue of the profession was workforce, and launched the Come Back to Nursing campaign, which has been encouraging nurses to return to practice since its launch in 2012.
“I believed that I could do things, from all the work I’ve done to improve the situation at Barts and now at Worcester,” she recalls. “I believed that I could do the improvement work and offer strong nursing leadership. I am passionate about the profession, too.
“In these types of roles, you have to have a breadth of experience. If it’s just acute or community, it won’t work. A wide range of skills working in different nursing roles is essential to designing new ways of working. These days chief nurses don’t have traditional CVs.”
The biggest challenge for Ms Stevens at Barts was the size of the organisation. “Everyone talks about it, but only when you are doing this job do you realise it’s really five organisations in one,” she says. “And the enormity of reaching 7,000 nurses across those five sites and the community is immense. You can’t do the traditional walk around and see everyone. Even after a year there, there were places I had never been.
“Without walking and talking, it is hard to pinpoint why we have the variation in care, which is why having data and a dashboard of metrics is so important,” she continues.
“I believed that I could do the improvement work and offer strong nursing leadership. I am passionate about the profession, too.
“If you are in special measures, everyone thinks you are rubbish, but there is actually world-class practice and practitioners at Barts. I’ve seen stunning practice and letters of delight from patients, so there is much to be proud of. My job was to lift all the standards to that level and get the best out of the Barts Health nursing brand.”
She believes she has laid the foundations to do just that and now feels she can apply the same principles at Worcester. “You have to believe in yourself and believe you’ve got skills, and that you can make a difference,” she says. “[Barts] was the hardest job I’ve ever done but I am choosing to do it again at Worcester because I’ve loved it, even though it’s tough.”
She says the job will be about tackling similar challenges to those at Barts: getting the numbers right, building pride and professionalism, implementing metrics and measures, talent management, leadership and training.
“Wherever you go, it’s about getting the right numbers, the right skills, the right behaviours, and working out how you galvanise and build a team around you,” she says. “At Worcester, I am asking the same questions.”
Ms Stevens’ thirst to take on some of the most troubled organisations is about leaving a legacy: “I want to be known for leaving nursing in a better state than when I found it.
“I have received emails from staff saying I have made a difference. When I was an A&E sister, I wanted patients to say they had got really great care when they came to my A&E, delivered by someone who cares. I still want the same thing at the trusts I work in.
“I get a buzz from doing it. Walking the wards and talking to staff and patients, nearly 40 years into my career, I feel this even more, which is why I am doing it all over again at Worcester.”