Today marks a milestone for all of us – a year to the day when we entered a national lockdown as a result of what was then becoming a global pandemic of Covid-19. It is a day we need to take to remember the lives lost, those we hold dear, lifelong partners, parents, sons, daughters, friends. It is also a day of reflection for the NHS, to consider what a huge impact the pandemic has had on our national treasure. For without the NHS and its ability to care for us in our time of need the impact on us and ours would have been far worse. I feel truly grateful for all those amazing people who turn up every day to ensure that we all get access to healthcare free at the point of need. Not just the frontline but everyone who supports that effort.
I have spoken before about my passion for the work that I do which is as a result of my joining the NHS many moons ago. Today is for me another day of reflection – it is 40 years today since I joined the NHS workforce as a Clerical Officer at the then North West Regional Health Authority – Gateway House next to Piccadilly Station – known as the ‘Lazy S’ due to the shape of the building, but also a tongue in cheek poke at the productivity levels emanating from it.
This morning I woke and recalled the first day like it was (forgive the cliché) yesterday. I remember getting on the bus from home in Oldham and getting into central Manchester to join the metropolis that would be my place of work for the next 6 years. The anticipation of what was to come – my first proper job. In those days smoking was allowed in the office and I remember how in one corner of the office the curtains at the windows had turned yellow as a result of their proximity to a couple of chain smokers. I can feel the nervousness of my first phone call to arrange a meeting for one of the senior managers in the team and not knowing how to conduct a ‘business’ conversation.
Little did I know then that the NHS would provide me with so much that has shaped my life:
- A career with unlimited opportunities
- A university education to gain a master’s degree
- Friendships that have lasted 40 years
- A sense of purpose and a job with meaning that I was doing important work
- Treasured memories of fun times
- The chance to shape healthcare through personal influence as a senior leader for my local community
It is a legacy I will always be proud of and thankful for, despite the challenging times and stress through countless reorganisations, modernisations and changes of government that shifted the focus. The thing that always lingers in the memory banks is the people I have met along the way – the good hearts, the ‘Steady Eddies’ the mentors and critical friends, the aspirational leaders I looked up to, and the dedicated professionals of all clinical and non-clinical persuasions. My acknowledgement list would be far too long to list here.
Whilst the work that I do now is at arms-length through business partnership, leadership development and coaching, it feels at times I am able to give back to the people and the service that gave me so much in my formative years – a full circle after 40 years. To reflect on one’s own life experiences and the lessons we can learn from this practice is how good leaders operate. How we got through this last year was down to that leadership at play in every corner of our NHS and our local communities. We have to learn more lessons through an open process to find out what we can do better next time – and there will be a next time. Let’s take a leaf out of Martin Luther King Jr’s book who said “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.” Those are the leaders I see in the NHS every day.
So where have I got to in 40 years? Well, I feel like a round peg in a round hole – I fit, I still belong to the NHS body and soul and wouldn’t have it any other way.