Being a hospital director in the middle of a pandemic is not what you expect to be doing, but for Tracy Jackson it has been a challenging time
Tracy grew up in the middle east near Saudi Arabia. Her parents worked out there at the time, however as a family they moved around a lot and lived quite a nomadic life before returning to Ireland as a teenager. From working in Dublin, she has picked up the soft Irish accent, but she married a Yorkshire man and moved to the north of the country.
Tracy studied Psychology at the University of Sussex and began her career in the health sector as a clinic director in Dublin, London, and Yorkshire before moving to Sheffield Children’s FT Hospital where she helped to set up a new Emergency Neonatal/Paediatric transport service.
She enjoyed working on patient pathways and quality improvement programmes and set up the Quality Improvement team at the Children’s Hospital. From there she travelled to Dartmouth in America to train in Clinical Microsystems with a team from Sheffield Teaching Hospital which involved seeing how quality improvement programmes could help reconfigure healthcare settings and different ways of working in Hospitals.
Tracy joined BMI Healthcare and rolled out Lean Hospital programmes in a number of hospitals in the UK before being offered the position as hospital director with BMI Healthcare in Rochdale.
“I loved the autonomy there of being able to use my experience and knowledge and introduce changes to the hospital,” says Tracy. After three years of working as executive director, she moved to Spire Fylde Coast to take up the position of hospital director in Blackpool 12 months ago. “I had never been to Blackpool before and have been really pleasantly surprised at how many lovely villages surround Blackpool, I cycle a lot so really enjoyed being by the coast.”
But after only a few months in the role, the pandemic hit, and it was all change. “We were all learning as we went along,” said Tracy. The collaboration was great between Independent Sector hospitals and the NHS trusts.”
The hospital has been carrying out urgent cancer surgeries for the local NHS Trust since Covid began and will continue to provide support in any way they can.
“There was a lot of staff frustration at the beginning as surgical activity slowed down to allow us all to agree how we could safely operate,” says Tracy. “We decided to get staff together and talk about what we could do differently as we felt this was an opportunity to be innovative and make sure we were maximising the use of all areas of the hospital during this time whilst supporting staff who were also having to juggle childcare, work and home. The hospital could not see patients in Outpatient clinics for a number of weeks, so our outpatient nurses retrained to work on the ward, administrators retrained to become healthcare assistants and housekeepers.
“Everyone retrained in a different area as we thought it would be useful for staff to gain experience and learn another role. Not only did this keep morale up, but it meant we could continue to offer hours to bank and contracted staff, people learnt new skills and also from a business continuity point of view we were in a good position to cross cover if any of our staff became ill. In fact, Tracy’s two sons have temporarily joined the hospital after they came home from university.
“People in the community were really great, we had no problem getting hold of PPE, Spire had secured a good stock of all necessary equipment. Local companies did offer to help if we needed any stock, we even had local builders knocking on our door to help with equipment. It really was a great feeling that we had so many offers of help. We also recruited a number of staff who had lost their jobs in different companies in the community over the past six months.”
One of the main priorities was to look after the staff as it was a challenging time for a number of people. “We had some staff who lived with family members that were shielding and they were incredibly nervous about coming to the hospital and we wanted to create a safe environment for them. We organised secluded offices for staff to work in, we gave out grab and go food bags, so they did not have to go to the canteen. As a company Spire has really looked after all of the staff and the communication from the CEO Justin Ash and COO John Forrest has been amazing. As Hospital Directors we have had very clear instructions, have felt fully supported and there was a clear strategy from the company at a time in which there was so much uncertainty. Safety has been the number one priority.”
“I’m proud to say we have treated more than 1000 patients that would have otherwise had their urgent treatment delayed since the lockdown first came in on 23rd March.”
The next stage is to focus on reopening services in the hospital and prioritise the waiting lists. We are a safe site for patients to come into. Staff and Consultants are on a regular Covid testing cycle, all patients have to self isolate before coming to the hospital for surgery and we have single patient rooms so everyone is kept at a safe distance apart in a sterile environment.
“Our consultants have reviewed all of our patients that are waiting for treatment to decide whether they need urgent treatment or not and then patients are offered the choice of coming in. I’m pleased to say that more patients are now feeling confident to have their surgery and feedback has been very positive from those that have been in the hospital and seen all the controls we have in place to keep them safe. We also have a one stop breast clinic for anyone who is concerned about breast cancer, they can just ring up and get an appointment without being put on a waiting list.”
Tracy’s vision for being innovative and developing staff has shown positive results for the hospital but she admits she couldn’t have done it without the support of the staff. She says: “There are staff here who have worked for more than 20 years who are completely dedicated and want to get involved in improvements for the future. We are all one big family.”