Making a difference

Health practitioners make brilliant reps

Imagine what it must be like to work in a trust under investigation. Would whisperings about employment tribunals in the staff room worry you? Would you wonder what’s happened? Is anyone to blame?

Working environments like this can feel toxic and make it difficult to trust people. Workplace relationships could easily break down. 

Lee Fretwell, an assistant practitioner working in dementia care, found himself in this situation and decided it was time to do something positive.

A Care Quality Commission (CQC) report published after an inspection said his workplace needed to improve and a warning notice was issued. Staff surveys also showed extremely low morale and widespread unhappiness.

As the RCN lead steward and chair of staff side, which brings together recognised unions at the trust, Lee’s made it his business to help turn-around this failing organisation. But it wasn’t easy and the first thing he had to do was to help his employer see the benefits of consulting staff and working in partnership with unions.

Taking the message to the top

He wasn’t afraid of the challenge. He brought all the workplace unions together as a united front to bring members’ concerns to the fore. And he took his concerns right to the top of the organisation, approaching the directors to explain how all sides can work together for the organisation’s good.

“I sought out invitations to key meetings and committees, including regularly meeting with the organisation’s HR director while continuing to talk to RCN members on the ground, feeding back their views to managers all the time,” he says.

Lee Fretwell

Now trust has been rebuilt and there’s far more consultation with staff. Disciplinary cases are tackled more speedily, with investigations carried out in a more timely way. 

Once a month Lee has meetings with Sue Walters, the trust’s engagement lead, because there’s now a commitment to improving the historically poor levels of staff engagement.

Lee stands up for what he believes in

She says that Lee’s commitment to making a difference to patient care is crucial. “He understands that engaging, valuing and appreciating staff is the key. Lee stands up for what he believes in, works in partnership and is respected by everyone,” she adds.

Lee’s work has made a huge difference – and formerly fractured relationships have been repaired. By looking after staff he’s ensured patient care can be a priority again and he’s increased respect for the RCN, with the College now seen as an organisation that initiates changes for the better.

“I’ve had to be extremely persistent in knocking on doors and saying our voice must be heard,” Lee says. “We’ve rebuilt bridges that had been burned. Now the trust wants to engage with us and we’re beginning to instigate positive change.” 

Have you thought about becoming a rep?

It's chance to make a real difference to your patients, your colleagues and even the future of nursing. You can apply to become an RCN learning rep, safety rep or steward. You’ll get lots of support from other reps and RCN staff, as well as ongoing learning and development opportunities. Find out more.

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