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Working for the Welsh Ambulance Service, by Tracy Myhill

I HAVE been here for just over a month now and am getting a good feel for the organisation, and how it works. I am getting out and about to catch up with staff, meet trade unions and meet with our managers. A big thank you to all those who have made me feel so welcome.

My twitter followers @TracyWAST are growing and I now have 190 followers in just a couple of weeks, which is a good start. The tweets and the personal messages to me are really welcomed. Thanks for taking time to share with me your thoughts about how we can improve the services we provide to the people of Wales and make our organisation a better place to be.

I have enjoyed meeting PCS staff in Whitchurch, Cardiff and in Caerphilly, talking with EMS staff in Gelli, Rhondda, and in Caerphilly and Cardiff and also control and NHSDW staff in Cwmbran. I have also been invited to join a crew in Anglesey, which I will be doing following my violence and aggression training next week. Your feedback is invaluable. Thanks for being so open and honest and keep it coming!

I have learned about training and some issues with nursing staff in EMS not being able to develop the advanced skills promised, about some inflexibility in the way we allocate annual leave which can, in some circumstances, mean we have too many staff on, e.g. PCS on bank holiday weekends when very limited clinics are running.

I have also learned of your frustrations at not being able to do your jobs because you are held up at hospitals, when you get a call 20 minutes before your shift is due to end that sends you 20 miles away to a call that was not an emergency after all, resulting in long ‘over-runs’ past your shift-end time, and often with no ability to plan this in relation to your lives outside work. Your frustrations when patients have to wait long periods to be taken home after their appointments also comes through. Your annual leave is important to you and the seeming inflexibility and central control over leave is stifling and demotivating.

Our staff outside UHW had never seen a Chief Exec on a pushbike before as I rode back from my swim at the sports and social club. I know you thought I was a complainant when I approached you at first, sorry about that! Your welcome and relaxed and open description of the good and not so good was refreshing, thanks.

I see proud staff passionate about the service you provide.

It is also encouraging to hear people say they have seen my messages and that they recognise me from my photo on email and Siren messages. It’s also nice to receive positive feedback from you that you appreciate me supporting you in the media and with the public and health board colleagues. It is my pleasure and my duty to do that and I will continue to do so.

You also seem as keen to have me share a shift with you as I am to do so. Please invite me and I will come. In terms of EMS, I want to see Friday nights in the cities and also the challenges of our rural areas. I will also shortly be shadowing our control staff to learn about your world, our NHSDW staff and spending time with our vital PCS service. You have promised to ‘look after me’ when I spend time in your world and I know you will and I really am looking forward to it.

What is also encouraging to me is that there is recognition of the things we need to improve upon within WAST and that we must deliver on our own improvements whilst tackling the system-wide issues too. We want to be recognised for providing a good service not constantly criticised for ‘failing’. We all have a part to play in delivering this aspiration.

Given some recent developments and a rise in temperature in the organisation, particularly from our trade union colleagues, I wanted to put pen to paper to set out my expectations in terms of how we can work together in partnership and what I am proposing in respect of three particular issues which are clearly of concern.

The first thing to say is I am absolutely committed to both the spirit and practicalities of working in partnership with staff and trade union colleagues to help us move forward. This has been the case for my entire career and I believe I have a reputation for giving everyone a fair hearing. My approach here at WAST will be no different, of that you have my absolute assurance.

I agreed to accept this role, knowing that I was inheriting a difficult employee relations climate. I see my role as being to get to the underlying cause of these problems, but that means two things; being given the time and space to do so and securing everyone’s support as I get this work underway in earnest.

My commitment to our organisation is to provide strong and visible leadership and to lead us out of the difficult times we find ourselves in. I cannot do this alone or without you, our staff, or our trade unions and managers working together and supporting each other to meet the significant challenges we face, with the undoubted pace with which we need to do so. I hope I can count on your support.

This brings me on to some specific issues some of you tell me are causing particular concern at the moment, namely the rostering review process for EMS staff, the issue of Christmas leave and the Rest Break Policy. I want to set out how I think we can come to some sensible decisions about these important matters.

Firstly, I have agreed with the Executive Team that we will not be forcing the completion of the roster review process this month. Where new rosters have already been agreed that meet the required criteria and colleagues are content to go ahead with new arrangements, then of course we should do so. We do not want to get in the way of these changes.

Where more work is needed, it’s important to get it right, and implement the changes properly so we will be aiming to have new arrangements fully implemented across the whole organisation before the end of March to allow us to resolve the issues that are currently holding up progress.

Secondly, in terms of Christmas leave, I understand how difficult it is for all those NHS and emergency service staff who have to work over bank holiday periods. It is not the case that we are “banning” leave or that we are denying people time with their families at such an important time of year.

What we are saying is that we are a publicly funded, publicly accountable service whose sole reason for being is to provide services for the people of Wales 24/7/365. This includes over the festive period, when demands on our services are at their most acute.

This means that we have a legal and moral duty to ensure that we have sufficient staff working over the holidays to meet that need. I will be looking to everyone for their support in ensuring that they work with their managers and teams to agree how best to cover shifts over the Christmas and New Year period.

The Meal Break Policy is one which appears to have caused a great deal of unrest across the organisation (although I have to say has had limited mention to me personally). While I can’t rewrite the process which has got us to where we are, I am prepared to look at how we can achieve an acceptable way forward.

On that basis, I would ask that you help me by working with the grain of the policy we have had in place since August while we do more work on the financial and other implications of paid meal breaks so that we can get to the position we all want to be in, with a Meal Break Policy that meets the need of all of us and which has been agreed in partnership with our trades unions.

I would hope that the majority of the work we need to do can be completed over the next few weeks, with a view to all getting back around the table to iron out any remaining issues shortly after that.

I hope this message is received in the spirit in which it is meant – one of an honest and open dialogue in WAST about our shared areas of concern – and reflects a renewed spirit of partnership across the organisation.

Together, we are WAST. While we need to recognise and heed what has happened in the past, we cannot change it. But we can change the future. We need to work together to do this and I very much hope that I will have all your support to do this.

Best wishes and I look forward to continuing the conversation and to seeing more and more of you as the weeks pass.

Tracy

Tracy Myhill
Chief Executive (Interim)
Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust