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Rising To The Leadership Challenege

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A NEW health centre awaits its grand opening but councillors are demanding a plan to tackle MRSA rates. Patients need to be isolated in A&E because of a vomiting bug, a broken bedpan washer is spewing out sewage onto a hospital ward and there is an outbreak of Legionella at a local clinic, writes Louise Tweddell.

You discover you have to hold a press conference for journalists demanding answers about the third maternal death at your foundation trust and, to make matters worse, the chief executive of your PCT has left you in the lurch to deal with a personal emergency – all this and it’s not yet midday.

Even the most experienced manager would struggle in a day filled with such twisting developments – but this was precisely the fate awaiting 36 nursing teams from trusts across England who signed up for the inaugural NT Leadership Challenge in Northampton, organised by Nursing Times in association with the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.

On arrival, all 36 teams – among them modern matrons and senior ward managers – were separated into nine groups of four, each representing a different local health economy. Each team represented a general hospital, one a PCT, a mental health trust or a foundation trust. After that, each team member was given a role.

The newly appointed nursing directors, chief executives, non-executive directors and communications managers then began to realise the hard work ahead, as they were given a series of challenges and tasks.

The object of the day was to work within the health economy and decide how to react to the challenges as they developed.

And there was added pressure – all the teams were closely monitored throughout by a panel of assessors, made up of directors of nursing, who would award the teams points for the way they worked.

It would prove a true test of each nurse’s skill in decision-making, flexibility, negotiation and persuasion if they were to successfully juggle all of the competing demands and win one of the six awards.

The aim of the nine-hour challenge was to give senior nurses an opportunity to develop leadership skills in a secure environment and to provide them with an insight into collaborative working in the health service.

But at the end of a gruelling day, did the challenge live up to the expectations of the participants?

Fran Campbell, private patient manager head of nursing at Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, came to the event to build a closer working relationship with her five team members but left with more than she expected.

‘I knew today would be a challenge but it’s been great fun. It’s given me a helicopter view of how all the services within a health economy work together – and it has also made me realise that I could go further in my career,’ she said.

Lachlan Traynor, senior clinical nurse in mental health for Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, took on the role of the modern matron during the challenge.

‘I’ve been the Super Glue of the team but I would not normally have the opportunity to take on a challenge like this,’ he said.

‘It’s helped me realise that, whichever level you work at, you can still deploy your way of working to another situation. It was daunting at first but I found my feet and took on things that I would normally shy away from.’

Paul Allen, executive director of leadership and development at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, was impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of all of the teams.

‘Nurses need an opportunity to work in a way beyond the typical functional boundaries of normal life by working through a simulation like this,’ he said.

‘There was a great deal of learning involved and I hope it might signal opportunities within their organisation that they might not have thought about before.’

Chief nursing officer Chris Beasley, who presented the final awards, added: ‘This event allowed nurses to spend a day away from their work and provided them with interactive learning which took them out of their comfort zones. It was very challenging and lots of fun’

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THINK YOU’RE UP FOR IT? DON’T DELAY – sign up for the next nt leadership challenge to be held in birmingham on 6 march 2008 by emailing jaida.kmiah@emap.com

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