Leading the “Hidden Heroes”: Martin Steele
Newly appointed NHS Property Services Chief Executive, Martin Steele, sets out his priorities for the organisation’s crucial work in fighting Covid-19.
Whether you are a long-serving or newly appointed CEO, Covid-19 has brought about a situation that is unique in terms of complexity, speed and scale. Prior to my appointment, I was leading our operational response to Covid-19 as Chief Operating Officer, a post in which I regularly liaised with colleagues in NHS England (NHSE). I feel privileged to be leading an organisation of over 5,000 frontline key workers who are delivering crucial service across the healthcare system. I’m extremely proud of the daily effort and difference each person makes.
There are two primary priorities right now. The first is helping the NHS to get through the crisis and the second is keeping our own people safe. Our purpose as an organisation is to enable excellent patient care. This is what drives us under normal circumstances, and it is certainly what’s driving us as we respond to the current pandemic.
Our cleaners, caterers, porters, receptionists, maintenance technicians and other frontline colleagues are working to keep buildings clean, safe and warm so that healthcare professionals can focus on delivering excellent patient care. Ensuring they have the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to conduct their crucial work safely is under daily review. We must also ensure they find the opportunity to rest between the extended and additional shifts they are having to work.
Our property management team is also engaged across the healthcare system, providing expertise in the re-use of space, optimising our current portfolios to increase bed capacity at a local level and facilitating student accommodation use for NHS key workers.
Ensuring key services are maintained
Our NHS colleagues across trusts, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and, of course, GPs are fighting a war against this virus. Our job is to support them throughout so that they can continue to deliver excellent patient care. To this end, we have been working with NHS England and other colleagues to ensure our estate is Covid-19 ready. Our asset management teams have been re-adapting the estate, at local level, to support the segmentation of “hot” hubs (Covid-19 in-patients) and “cold” hubs (non-Covid-19 in-patients). Our operations teams have prioritised our offering and service delivery to ensure that emergency and urgent work is still taking place.
Requests for deep cleans by hospital wards or GP practices are increasing rapidly in order to ensure decontamination. To date, our cleaning teams have delivered nearly 700 incremental deep cleans.
Beyond that, it is important to recognise that this time period can be concerning for our NHS colleagues and customer groups. To ensure transparency and clarity, I’ve asked our internal teams to communicate regularly changes and updates to these groups. That clarity is helpful for them to understand which projects and services will be maintained. In addition, we have created a dedicated webpage for NHS colleagues and customers with information, resources and access to our customer support centre. I want to pay tribute to the work of the teams there. We have managed to maintain a 24/7 helpdesk support service and that is in no small part down to the individual efforts and flexibility of those colleagues based in and around Stockport.
Delivering additional clinical space
The NHSPS estate includes several community hospitals and large health centres. We commenced a project in early March to identify opportunities to create additional bed capacity in these properties to provide options to support acute trusts.
Presently, we are working on options to create in excess of an additional 1,600 beds across 57 sites. Nineteen of these sites have already been handed over, comprising of 690 beds, and have been used by trusts for step down care.
Further to providing increased bed capacity, the NHSPS estate is being adapted to provide additional primary care or to provide flexibility for the way GP services are offered to treat patients with, and without Covid-19. In line with NHSE issued guidance, this is a commissioner-led activity. We are offering property solutions including the use of vacant space and extended facilities management services where required. We’ve had over 400 requests for additional space to support moves such as the creation of Covid-19 assessment pods.
Our frontline colleagues are doing amazing work in very challenging conditions. It’s encouraging to hear how grateful our colleagues at NHSE and the Department of Health and Social Care are to our cleaners, porters, caterers, maintenance technicians and others. These people are working day-in, day-out to keep facilities safe and clean.
In recognition of their work, we recently launched our #HiddenHeroes campaign, designed to showcase the extraordinary efforts of how NHS non-clinical frontline staff are making a difference against Covid-19. Listening to the stories of frontline colleagues has been inspiring and humbling in equal measure. Their bravery deserves recognition and it is our hope that the campaign will focus the media’s attention, as well as that of politicians and the general public, on our hidden heroes.
Protecting our staff
As an employer, NHSPS is committed to keeping our frontline safe, motivated and healthy. The current pandemic makes this task even more vital.
Ensuring our people are looked after in terms of their mental wellbeing is as important as protecting them physicallyMartin Steele, Chief Executive Officer, NHS Property Services
PPE has been a global concern for many countries and healthcare providers. Our frontline is fully equipped to Public Health England’s regulatory standards and we believe we have sufficient processes in place to ensure we do not run out. Our collaborative approach working with suppliers, such as government, the NHS and external providers has been essential in supplying the frontline on a regular basis.
Ensuring our people are looked after in terms of their mental wellbeing is as important as protecting them physically. Covid-19 is a virus that can have a significant impact upon anxiety, stress levels and mental health. Therefore, we have enacted policies to support our people from this perspective too.
It’s important that, where possible and appropriate, we are encouraging colleagues to take their holidays. Our people need to take time off to ensure they are refreshed and energised to deliver for their frontline colleagues. In the event they’re unable to take their annual leave, we have extended the period in which they can carry it over.
We appreciate it might be a distressing time for many. We have made it clear to all staff that our Employment Assistance Programme offers access to trained counsellors. This is free, confidential and accessible 24 hours a day, and is in conjunction with internal wellbeing hubs and resources. The wellbeing hub provides colleagues with access to several resources, in addition to a weekly wellbeing webinar. Some of our colleagues do not have access to these online resources, so we are launching a monthly wellbeing guide that will be posted to them at home.
Longer term learnings
It is challenging to assess and analyse longer term learnings while amid a global pandemic. However, it should be noted that NHS PS is following organisational business continuity processes and plans for managing the current Covid-19 outbreak. This involves internal governance alignment to monitor and manage operational requirements. It also makes sure there is a continuous focus on supporting staff in the delivery of services for NHS colleagues. These services include resources, equipment and ongoing estates management.
As previously mentioned, aligned to this area of governance, the management team has also installed a process of independent monitoring, risk review and learning to ensure continuous improvement throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although the Covid-19 situation is ongoing and fluid, the response from our teams has been incredible as we continue to focus on meeting the requests from NHS colleagues and other stakeholders.
Recognising heroic work
National recognition of the roles played by key frontline workers is well-placed and heart-warming to witness. It is extremely humbling for those of us not in frontline service.
I am incredibly proud to lead this organisation of frontline heroesMartin Steele, Chief Executive Officer, NHS Property Services
We have put together a benefits package, which not only recognises the work our frontline staff continue to undertake, but also ensures staff are properly recompensed for the additional work many of them carry out, particularly on behalf of absent colleagues. In addition, we also wanted to demonstrate our gratitude towards the frontline staff by making a one-off bonus payment available to all such colleagues once the peak of this crisis is over. All in all, I am incredibly proud to lead this organisation of frontline heroes.