Jacqui Jones: “Everything that’s been flung at HR we’ve responded to”

The HR director of NHS National Services Scotland reflects on a turbulent 12 months for healthcare people professionals

Jacqui Jones: “Everything that’s been flung at HR we’ve responded to”

As director of HR and workforce development for NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) and NHS Louisa Jordan – Scotland’s equivalent of England’s NHS Nightingale, set up to deal with an expected influx of Covid patients – Jacqui Jones’s team has been at the forefront of the country’s response to the pandemic. She found a gap in her very full diary to tell People Management about her experiences over the past year.

What was your experience of helping set up the Louisa Jordan hospital?

It was challenging and hard work, but an amazing experience. One of the first things I did was get a really good team around me. I’ve never worked with an acute clinical model before, which is how we determine the workforce we might need. We had an agreement with NHS boards in the west of Scotland that they would supply enough staff for the first 40 beds, and then beyond that we would need to work together to potentially recruit additional staff for 300 beds and then up whatever numbers were required for stand-up. We’re not an employer in our own right, so that would have involved enacting the memorandum of understanding we have with each of the health boards in Scotland that they would release some of their staff to us. It involved a lot of conversations with my fellow HR directors about how that would work.

We never got to the point where the hospital needed to be stood up, although we came close, but it has been used for around 18,000 outpatient appointments, as well as a mass vaccination centre. But we have standard operating procedures for setting it back up again, and all the equipment will be flat packed ready and waiting if it’s ever needed in the future.

How has NHS Scotland been supporting staff wellbeing throughout Covid?

Each of the 22 Scottish health boards has their own arrangements in place, but the Scottish government also put extra measures in at a national level to supplement that, including hubs and networks around mental wellbeing. But of course it’s the local initiatives that really matter, and space is one of the biggest factors – staff need to be able to get away to rest and have a break. In the Louisa Jordan hospital, staff would’ve had a lovely breakout area away from the clinical areas, but in hospitals with a finite amount of space that can be more difficult. It’s been really challenging for my colleagues in hospitals. In the future we’re going to have to think much more about how we use space.

How important have line managers been in the response to the pandemic?

Before Covid, we had done a lot of work defining and embedding the role of line managers, investing in things like leadership training, and it’s really paid off. As an organisation we supplied PPE to the health boards and social care, as well as being heavily involved in setting up the Louisa Jordan hospital, the national contact tracing centre, regional labs and now a mass vaccination centre. To do all this, we pulled high-potential managers out of their day jobs and, when I look at those managers, they’re operating out of their comfort zones and building new teams but using all the skills we’ve invested in giving them around conversations and relationship building. It’s been incredible watching them step out of their roles and accomplish things we could never have imagined.

How has Covid changed people’s perceptions of HR?

From my organisation’s perspective, as our chief executive pointed out, HR has been at the forefront of just about everything. It’s really put a spotlight on how good or not so good we are. I’ve worked very hard transforming HR at NHS NSS and making sure it’s following the CIPD framework, and we were able to respond to Covid at such pace – to set up the national contact tracing centre we’ve recruited, onboarded and trained 1,000 people since June last year. Everything that’s been flung at HR we’ve been able to respond to, and it’s really shown the value of good, straightforward, pragmatic, professional HR advice.

What’s been your biggest people challenge of the last year?

There have been so many, but recruiting into a big programme management service as well as the national contact tracing centre just after starting to deliver HR shared services for public health in Scotland was big. The team had to learn new systems, onboard and train people at scale and pace in the middle of a pandemic, and deliver business as usual while working remotely. It was incredible.

What has made you most proud in your organisation during the pandemic?

The sheer response of people going the extra mile – I’ve seen astonishing things. Lots of people have gone way beyond what was asked of them and have delivered at pace. I’ve not come across one person who said ‘that's not my job’ or ‘it’s five o’clock, I’m going home’.

Jones will be speaking about developing and supporting line managers at the CIPD’s virtual Scotland conference on Tuesday 30 March 2021. Click here to book your ticket