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Friday 01 December 2017

Standout moments in a month of inspiration

By Jon Restell

The last month has shown me once again that managers are impressive, stand-out people. They are managing in a system under intense pressure, without the money to keep up with demand, while facing huge workforce challenges.

Jon Restell in discussion with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens at the MiP Members' Summit in October 2017.

I’ve had a surfeit of inspiration in the last month. Unlike the lamprey variety, this surfeit hasn’t carried me off but instead given me hope, energy and direction. There have been more encounters with inspiration than I have space here to recount. Once you start looking out for it, you find the bloody thing everywhere. But there are a few stand-out moments.

The Members’ Summit and parliamentary reception was the most important for me: MiP members and reps leading, debating, sharing and planning for the union.

We saw managers working with each other and our partners on your key issues: equality, good management practice, mental health and wellbeing, partnership working, the positive story about management, pay and pensions, gaining influence.

We saw members lobbying their MPs on your behalf about the value of management and the need for a fully-funded pay award well above the pay cap. (MPs who, by the way, now want to hear much more from frontline managers – a newly discovered species for most of them.)

We saw leadership from managers like Dean Royles, whose speech challenged myths, made us cry and laugh – hard – and gave us an inspirational take on our role and the meaning of work.

The new event format worked well and everyone on the team and national committee is still buzzing. I’m proud they took a punt and tried something new. The action plan from the summit will be our guiding star in 2018.

In his opening speech to our Summit, Simon Stevens trailed his intervention at the following week’s NHS Providers Conference – when he reminded government of that Brexit supporters had promised £350m a week for the NHS.

This was my second stand out. Now, Simon has always put the ‘chutz’ in ‘chutzpah’, but nonetheless it took courage and represented a departure from the norm to lay out clearly the political choice facing the Chancellor in his Budget: fund the NHS properly or accept cuts in services and longer waiting lists.

As a public servant, Simon deserves praise for his unflinching willingness to speak truth to power. We will amplify the message that this is the choice facing the country.

My third injection of inspiration came from the HSJ summit in thriving Manchester. The after-dinner speech by polar explorer Felicity Aston was pretty motivating, as you might expect. Her account of skiing solo across the Antarctic had me spellbound. She reached the edge of her resilience, she recalled. Every morning she woke up and felt she couldn’t go on, that she was bound to fail – as everyone said she would – and that the challenge was beyond her. She then told herself that all she had to do was to get out of the tent. So, with a supreme effort of will she would do this one thing and that would lead to another day of achievement on the journey. After Felicity’s speech, I have adopted ‘Just keep getting out of the tent’ as my personal motto.

But amazingly heroic though Felicity’s story was, it was the many managers at the summit – passionate, honest, calm – who inspired me more, as they talked about what they are doing to make the most of their resources for NHS staff and local people.

These managers are still leading and striving for better – and somehow surviving and thriving at the same time. They are impressive, stand-out people because they are managing in a system under intense pressure, without enough money to keep up with demand, while facing huge workforce challenges. They keep getting out of the tent every morning, and go on to achieve something worthwhile in the most difficult environment. They – and by they, I mean you – are the managers the country needs right now. You’re worth fighting for and definitely worth getting out of the tent for.

Jon Restell is chief executive of MiP.

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