Learning from Excellence Conference

| Linda Hutchinson

Our regular readers will know that we have found lots to admire about Learning from Excellence, a fresh approach to quality and safety improvement. I went along to their first conference last week.

Title: Learning from Excellence Community Event

Date: 16 November 2017

Venue: Vox Conference Centre, Birmingham

OrganisersLearning from ExcellenceWest Midlands Patient Safety CollaborativeAppreciating People

With an audience of about 250 people it felt at times like a rally. A sitting down rally for the most part, although there was plenty of audience participation throughout the day. Most people were there as they knew about Learning from Excellence and had set up schemes in their places of work. A few didn’t but had come to the event (which was free to attendees) by virtue of their work role.

We heard from Suzette Woodward, Director of Patient Safety at NHS England about how Learning from Excellence is a perfect fit for Safety II and Sign up for Safety. There were introductions to the core approach of Appreciative Inquiry from Suanne Quinney of Appreciating People. Talks from Chris Turner, Neil Spenceley and Andy Bradley all added different perspectives.

Although the conference had the usual elements of plenaries, posters, breaks and feedback walls, it felt more dynamic and engaging than most NHS based conferences. This was, in large part, due to the personalities of the organisers, Adrian and Emma Plunkett. They have a wonderful tone of humility and openness when they speak. They genuinely wanted to hear from the audience and ensured that after every speaker, questions were posed which we then discussed on our tables. Not in a ‘capture on post-its’ way, just to have the conversation for the sake of the conversation itself.

There was a strong sense of disciples and followers. My neighbour’s remark that it felt like ‘a love in’ was compounded when Adrian Plunkett asked us to turn to whoever we are sat next to and say “I love you” which was a very powerful moment. That was a first for the NHS, I’m sure!  I can’t wait to see if it catches on at the next NHS Confederation or Kings Fund annual gathering.

It may take time to catch on though, as on my table there was at least one person who found this, and the following session with a high emotional content involving the audience, too far outside their comfort zone. When the audience was asked how we were feeling, people shouted out ‘happy’ and ‘proud’. In quieter voices around me I heard ‘confused’ and ‘scared’ revealing this approach can be daunting. But these were just small moments in an otherwise celebratory day.

What did I learn?

I learnt more about the background to Learning from Excellence and how many people around the country are now applying it. The session I enjoyed most was a panel one with about 10 people from units who use Learning from Excellence albeit under different banners. For instance, it is PRAISE in Great Ormond Street, SOX in Salisbury, and You’re Greatix in another place. People talked about how they set it up and how they got around barriers. The main message was Just Do It! Get started even if it is just a few of you in a team.

Part of the approach is to send a thank you to people to let them know you appreciate what they did. I was stunned by hearing that this was problematic by email. Porters and cleaning staff do not have email addresses recorded by human resources departments and of those staff who do have nhs.net emails, 60% have not looked at them in the past 6 months. So more than one place has reverted to sending letters by post.

But mainly I learnt the amazing power of people and positivity. There were examples of how a positive approach had turned around staff morale in a care home that had a damning CQC inspection; how saying thank you to someone for a kind word at a difficult time made them resolve to do that more; how reflecting on an unexpected emergency in a radiology department had confirmed that staff had dealt with it well and led to writing a simple protocol.

For more on the conference – check here

For a great write up by Suzette Woodward – check here

Photo by Juan Rojas

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