Since 2001, the NHS Modernisation Agency has been working to identify initiatives that will improve the experience and outcomes for patients across the service. The agency has worked with strategic health authorities (SHAs), ambulance trusts, primary care trusts (PCTs) and their partners, to find and share best practice wherever possible.
Retention and recruitment has always been an issue in the NHS as many parts of the service experience high levels of staff turnover. One way of improving retention - recognised in 2003 by NHS director of HR Andrew Foster - is getting staff involved in formulating workplace policies. As a result, the Modernisation Agency's retention and recruitment initiatives (RRI) team created staff discovery interviews (SDIs) to identify potential improvements in the workplace.
These interviews took the same form as existing patient interviews, which were carried out to gather information about service provision.
"I wanted to ask staff what we could do to make their life better," says Kath Harris, head of RRI at the Modernisation Agency. "We could then identify things that would improve their sense of worth in the job."
In 2003, three pilot schemes were created at Wolverhampton PCT, Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals Trust, and Oxford Radcliffe Hospital Trust. In each case, interviews were carried out voluntarily, ensuring both interviewer and interviewee were committed to the process rather than feeling it was an imposition.
Individuals - usually HR staff - received interview training, supplied and funded by the RRI team. Interviewers would record interviews with about 30 staff, sending the resulting audio tapes to the RRI team for transcription and analysis. The only additional costs incurred by the trust were for the extra resources required to cover those staff participating in the interviews.
"The interviews are not structured, but nor are they entirely free-form," says Harris. "Actually, the word 'interview' should be dropped entirely because it has the wrong connotations. It is not an imposition and we are not looking for right answers. Staff are simply invited to talk about their work experiences in their own words. As a result, you get answers to questions you have not even asked."
Before the SDIs were carried out, the RRI team made sure each trust board was ready to listen to the responses and willing to act accordingly. It was vital th