Embracing new methods of communication

Hi all

It’s been a little while since I used a CEO Blog to communicate with you. But both I and the entire Executive Team have been determined to ensure that during these unprecedented times, we keep in touch with all our staff and give you the opportunity to give us your views, feedback and ideas.

To that end, over recent weeks, we’ve been using a whole range of methods and channels to communicate and engage with you all, including:

  • our regular COVID-19 updates from our Executive Director of Operations, Jonathan O’Brien;
  • workforce and HR updates from our Executive Director of OD, Workforce and Inclusion, Shajeda Ahmed, and her team; 
  • a comprehensive programme of engagement with you all on how we can transform the ways in which we will work in future, led on the corporate side by our Executive Director of Finance, Performance and Estates, Lorraine Hooper, and on the clinical side by Jonathan; and 
  • a whole suite of new wellbeing resources, support and guidance, made available through our public website, so they are available to you 24/7 and from any location.

On a personal level, I’ve got used to delivering my regular Team Brief in an entirely new way – by video and MS Teams. And one particular thing I have enjoyed, along with Executive Colleagues, has been our new ‘Exec Drop Ins Online.’ These have been a considerable success, proving to be popular with teams as a way to have an informal, small format chat, whilst giving Exec colleagues valuable insight into the realities of life and operations on the front line. 

We have conducted over 20 of these sessions since we launched them at the start of May. They have also led directly to innovations in the way teams themselves are able to operate and engage. For example, as a direct result of an Exec Online Drop-in session which I conducted with the Sutherland Team, they have co-designed with the Comms Team a Service Web page, featuring much more information and resources than hitherto which, once completed, will become a standard for all service pages on our public website. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.


Just like me, many of you will have seen the global impact of #BlackLivesMatter and I am sharing this image with you which I came across recently as it really made me think about the world we live in.

There have been some shocking social media responses and misinterpretations as to what the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is about. Unfortunately this negative social media takes away each and everyone’s responsibility in respecting difference.

Please do take a moment to look at this image… read it… process what is being said.

Black lives DO matter, as do all lives, regardless of difference.

As a White ally and Chief Executive of Combined, I know this is absolutely the view of the Board too. We have been doing everything we can to focus and dedicate efforts to ensuring we address the inequalities our BAME colleagues face. This is our responsibility and commitment to our public and it is a requirement of each of us towards one another.

At the start of COVID-19, we acted immediately to provide support for all of our people. Once reports emerged about how our BAME people were at a higher risk of Coronavirus, we acted immediately, developing our own internal risk assessment, offering personalised MOT health checks specifically aimed at BAME colleagues, but additionally offered to anyone with concerns about their health. The feedback I have received from staff has been overwhelmingly positive.

I also wanted to outline some of the work we have been progressing at the Trust to address racial inequality.

  • Our Executive Board is diverse and inclusive by design. At Combined Healthcare we believe passionately that a diverse and inclusive organisation is a healthy and effective organisation. We are proud to have one of the most diverse Executive Boards in the country, comprising three BAME executive directors, four women, and two LGBT+ individuals. All in our Board can confidently explain why tackling racism is important for the NHS and I challenge all our Directors to take personal action to achieve this, regardless of their role or professional or personal background.  
  • As Roger Kline (author of ‘Snowy White Peaks’) said recently, “every leader must seek out and understand their local challenges, looking for risk not comfort”. Our Executive Team will be expecting every leader and every team to be identifying the inequalities and inconsistencies affecting their BAME users of their services and to develop meaningful plans to address these issues. As a Board, we will be taking our own responsibilities seriously, and also developing a culture of accountability where we expect to see tangible progress being made in all our services or have challenging discussions about the reasons why progress is not being made.
  • We have been making improvements in workforce race inclusion through our work in progressing the WRES (Workforce Race Equality Standard) and the work of our Inclusion Council and associated projects. We must continue and indeed accelerate the pace of this work, delivering on our ambition to be representative of our BAME population, not just as a whole Trust, but at every level (and particularly at more senior levels).  I have agreed this as part of my own appraisal, and will be building this in to the appraisals of all our senior leaders in the current and future years.
  • Our Director of Workforce, OD & Inclusion, BAME Staff Network and our (BAME and LGBT+) Reverse Mentoring mentors work with us closely to help us to stay on course and develop appropriate insight and action on inclusion.
  • We are signed up to the Race at Work Charter, which allows us to move from dialogue to real actionable steps in addressing racial inequalities.

I will continue to keep you posted as this work progresses and continue to discuss these matters and involve you all in these conversations. We will need your help for us to deliver on our goals and to make greater and faster improvement in closing gaps in health and workplace experiences and in reducing health inequalities.

I hope you will join me in making it a personal mission to create a fairer, more diverse and inclusive organisation to the benefit of all. We all have a role to play in tackling discrimination and racial inequality and it is now time for us to act and make changes which truly make a difference.


As part of our continuing commitment to digital innovation, I am delighted to welcome our newest member of staff, CARA, our “Combined Avatar for Recovery Action” – to the Trust.

We know that using human presenters in corporate films, presentations and videos massively increases their impact. When this is combined with  graphics, pictures and other content, the impact is increased even further.  The problem is that this becomes more of a challenge when it is more difficult to be in situ to film the presenter.  

With greater numbers of staff, including senior staff, working from home this problem will be more common. In addition, the infection threat is increased by physically standing in proximity to a human to film them.  

To address this problem, our in-house Comms Team have developed the capability to create animated characters who can easily be lip-synced with an audio recording from a presenter – and then embedded in films and presentations in exactly the same way as a human would be.  

This enables us to continue to produce high impact films, presentations and videos without the need to physically be present to film the human. All that is required is for the presenter to send us an audio recording.  

CARA has been ‘recruited’ to be the ‘human’ face of the Trust’s Corporate Recovery Programme. You can find out more about our Corporate Recovery strategy at https://www.combined.nhs.uk/recovery/

I know that the complementary recovery programme for clinical services is also doing great work engaging with our clinical staff. Not to be outdone, a little bird tells me that CARA will shortly be joined by CHRIS – an animated male ward manager. I’m looking forward to welcoming him to the Combined family too!