South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust Achieves Continuous Improvement through Apprenticeships

South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust Achieves Continuous Improvement through Apprenticeships header

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has partnered with City Skills to deliver the  Improvement Leader Apprenticeship in order to provide support for its front-line teams to make improvements and efficiencies in all of their projects. 

Traditionally, continuous improvement in healthcare settings is a systematic approach to enhancing quality and outcomes of care, safety, patient experience and process efficiency. The goal of Lean Six Sigma-based (LSS) continuous improvement is always to achieve excellence or perfection by establishing ways of working that maximise value, remove waste and support frontline staff to identify the root causes of problems in systems and processes and develop solutions to rectify them.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has sought to enhance this approach, by recognising the importance of supporting its workforce through change projects and to achieve the high impact and sustainable improvement needed for successful change the need for dedicated support within its Learning and Development (L&D) function to engage, empower, develop, and support its wider workforce.

Gareth Gent has been in his current Leadership Associate role for two years, having previously held an organisation development role at North Tees hospital, in which he was responsible for delivering training, insight sessions and general team development.

Following his move, he found the new role had a greater focus on continuous improvement and now delivers LSS in-house workshops to all staff at all levels of the trust while providing dedicated support for projects and improvement work requests from other colleagues. 

Says Gareth, “The previous L&D team was disbanded, which ultimately led to a level of deskilling of the staff and has resulted in a lack of recognised leadership training and a lack of confidence in undertaking improvement work, which meant projects didn’t really get started.”

“Now, we try to act as advocates for change and have created processes that enable managers to ask for support, whether that’s issues with the dynamic of a team or just digital dysfunction, or whether it’s a change initiative that they want to go through. “

“We might be working with the IVF team to procure some new computers, we saved the recruitment team around 422 hours in their recruiting process for apprentices and we have recently worked with a cohort of ex-military nurses who were transitioning into the trust and requested some training on some of the tools, some skills and some exposure to quality improvement methodologies.”

“In each case, we work with the teams to understand their SIPOC, (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs customers) in order to create a project plan that can be represented by perhaps a set of related swim lanes with the process steps in the middle so we can help them pin down their process steps and start to identify areas of improvement.”

In addition to front-line healthcare, the LSS-based improvement leader role is common across all industry sectors and functions including automotive, pharmaceutical, telecoms, retail, food and drink manufacture, insurance, and hospitality, but perhaps it is more commonly associated with manufacturing processes rather than service-based transactions.

Based on guidance and information gained from the Improvement Leader Apprenticeship, Gareth and his team have created a new project management office, which acts as a hub for collaboration between colleagues. New project managers can present project ideas to the hub, and receive specific lean management training (one of the two main components in LSS – the other being Six Sigma), followed by fortnightly clinics and further training every four months as part of the project lifecycle.

Says Gareth “The project management office helps us give colleagues the support and guidance needed to keep their projects moving forward. We provide practical experience of the tools that support the ‘define’ element of the Lean Six Sigma methodology in particular and apply this to each project so the project teams actually get things done and we see the progression between our sessions. We then use improvement clinics every two weeks, which is like a safe space for three and a half hours where any one of the project team can bring that project back to us to review. At the end of four months, they’ll deliver a presentation back to the Trust on the improvements their project has made or the efficiencies it has gained.”

In his role, Gareth interacts with colleagues from across the Trust, who all have different abilities, requirements and knowledge of project management and continuous improvement techniques. While he is mindful of the different audiences, he is committed to ensuring that all LSS techniques, tools and strategies taught are consistent and accurate.

“I like to hold myself, and my professional credibility to high standards. I didn’t have a recognised continuous improvement qualification and felt that if I was teaching others, it was something I needed.  If I want projects to be credible, I need that for myself. From being on the apprenticeship I could see that actually a lot of the ways I’ve been taught in the past about quality improvement were wrong. If you are taught incorrectly, you practice incorrectly. 

The apprenticeship is not only helping me improve my own knowledge, but it’s helping me to design new content to deliver internally to our staff too. It has taken my levels of learning right up.”

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