Anniversaries Giving Us a Chance for Celebration And Reflection

Hi all

Anniversaries are a time for celebration and reflection. Whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary of a meeting or relationship or an important event. This week is an important anniversary for Combined Healthcare as a Trust and for me personally.

​This week it is exactly two years since Combined Healthcare held its celebration event in the gym at Harplands on a sunny Friday afternoon to announce to the world that it had become only 1 of 2 specialist mental heath trusts in the NHS – and the only mental health trust in the West Midlands – to be rated Outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

​And the following Monday, it was my pleasure and privilege to become your Chief Executive. On that occasion, we made a public pledge to our service users and to each other. That pledge was not to be complacent, but to continue to strive to improve and innovate – being relentlessly focused in being Outstanding in ALL we do and HOW we do it. I can honestly say that ever since that first day I walked into our Trust, every single person I have met has stayed true to that pledge – and we continue to do so.

So in this blog, I want to look back at what we have achieved, and also look forward with an idea we have for continuing to improve in one particularly important area – how we can improve even further the ways in which anyone and everyone can continue to raise concerns or bring important matters to the attention of the Trust, its Executive team and me, personally.


For those of you who have never seen this – and for others who may have seen it but not for a while – I thought you might like a reminder of how the BBC reported our amazing news in March 2019.

The very next week, one of my first acts as your Chief Executive was to witness the official unveiling of the magnificent giant jigsaw which stands proud to this day in Harplands Hospital as a permanent tribute to the people who brought us to the significant milestone of achieving our ‘Outstanding’ CQC rating. Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve paused in front of it, and I know from feedback from frontline staff that many of you do so too. It’s a reminder of just how important it is to take time to recognise and celebrate achievement and dedication from our staff.


Of course, we have recently marked a more sombre anniversary – one year since COVID-19 hit the Trust and the country. Shortly after the onset of the crisis, we created the Combined United facility on our website, to allow staff and service users to post tributes, recognition and messages of thanks and support to each other.   

Every contribution made via Combined United appears on our Hall of Fame, which we invited everyone to “build to become a lasting tribute and record of the extraordinary things we are doing and all we are going to do”.

Particularly in the early days of our COVID challenge – and in some of the darkest moments – Combined United was used precisely for this reason. To show solidarity and support for each other.

As we approach what we all hope will be the end of a very long tunnel, we are thinking how we can take the messages of support and examples of dedication and brilliance provided over the months via Combined United and turn them into a more formal, permanent and public record – possibly on display at Harplands Hospital and our other sites.

To that end, I would like to invite everyone to take 10 minutes or so to reflect on what they will remember and would like others to remember most as part of that permanent tribute about what the Trust, a team or even an individual work colleague did to meet and defeat head on this historic challenge. It can be anything you like, big or not so big. It could be that you simply want to say “I really value what you do and how you do it”. Or a message of support and encouragement. Or maybe you want to give a public profile for something being done that otherwise might go unnoticed or forgotten as time passes and memories fade.

To add your contribution to Combined United – click here.


One of the most important aspects of being Outstanding – and something that is very important to me personally – is our commitment to staff’s Freedom to Speak Up and their ability to raise any concerns they may have about where things might be at risk of going wrong. This is of equal, and arguably greater, importance than celebrating all the things that go right.

As I’m sure you’ll all be aware, we have now created a Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) infrastructure that is one of the strongest in the country. Our first FTSU Guardian came into post in 2016, the role was in its infancy, both nationally and here at Combined, and people were not quite sure how to access it. Since then, things have gone from strength to strength.

Our network of Freedom to speak up Champions has also grown substantially; with staff from a range of roles and backgrounds in the organisation. We have every Directorate represented with a champion, we have clinical staff and corporate staff, we have registered and non-registered professionals and our champions are representative of all of our Staff networks; BAME, LGBT+, Neurodiversity and Disability, with some of our champions being active within these networks.

Latterly we have secured the support of two senior Trust leaders; Dr Okolo (Clinical Director) and Liz Mellor (Deputy Director of Operations), which is a real testament to the Trust’s commitment to promoting an open, transparent culture, where staff feel safe to raise concerns. My Executive Drop-in Sessions are always insightful and provide me with food for thought across a range of topics. One such topic that has been raised at two of my recent drop-in meetings relates to our use of our various speak-up mechanisms, including Dear Peter. Our Dear Peter mechanism, of course previously titled Dear Caroline, was put in place at a point when this FTSU arrangement was nowhere near as well established as it is today.

So perhaps it is time to have a think about how we use our various speak up mechanisms and to do this I’d like your help. All of our staff will shortly be receiving a diary invite to a special MS Teams session on 19 April, in which I would like to hold a discussion on the subject of speak-up arrangements, in the format of our Listening into Action processes.

Please do watch your inbox for this invite and I very much look forward to hearing your views on
a) what works well at the moment and why and
b) what’s missing or needs changing if anything.