Clare Hutton, Deputy Matron, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Overseeing operating theatres, promoting staff well-being and the importance of compassion in the NHS.
"Well-being is top of my priority list. For caregivers to give the best care, they need somebody to be looking after them as well."
As a deputy matron, Clare helps oversee 22 operating theatres. She says, “We manage around 300 staff and 11 different specialities of surgery, including liver and kidney transplant surgery. My day consists of overseeing operations and making sure we’ve got the right staff levels, the correct skill sets and the appropriate post-op care for our patients.” In addition to managing the logistics of operating theatres, Clare also promotes staff engagement. “Well-being is top of my priority list. For caregivers to give the best care, they need somebody to be looking after them as well.”
"We created the first wellness room. A soft, non-clinical area, a breathing space."
Initiatives Clare and her colleagues have spearheaded to promote staff well-being include ‘Shine’, a project to identify improvements that benefit staff and patients. “We created the first wellness room," she explains. "A soft, non-clinical area, a breathing space. It’s not a sleeping, eating or working space. It’s a place where any member of staff, from any band, can go if they feel like they need some time out to gather their thoughts. Sometimes things don’t go well in theatres and it can be traumatic for our staff. We need to be able to say ‘I need some time out’, without having to go home.” So successful is this initiative that Clare and her team are in the process of opening three more wellness rooms in the hospital.
"We try to make sure our staff feel heard. To be heard is very powerful for staff’s well-being and mental health."
Another project Clare was involved in to encourage staff engagement is ‘You Said We Did’. A theme Clare and her staff "get throughout the NHS is that some staff feel as if nobody listens to them. We try to make sure our staff feel heard. To be heard is very powerful for staff’s well-being and mental health.” The outcome of the project is a clinical psychologist, who has been working directly with the staff since 2020. “It’s not for everybody," she adds. "but it’s confidential and dignified.”
"In 1948, we built the NHS, and our core value was compassion. It’s still the secret to success, all these years later."
As a woman in the NHS, Clare sees her role as helping to build women up to be their best version: “It’s about showing women that anything’s possible, and we’ll help them get there.” She also knows the key to providing good leadership for her team is compassion: “It’s about compassionate, inclusive leadership. I listen and I’m curious. It builds trust. Collaborative relationships are built on trust, and trust is what makes a successful team. In 1948, we built the NHS, and our core value was compassion. It’s still the secret to success, all these years later.”
"Supporting staff ... was challenging and emotional."
Like everywhere in the NHS, the covid pandemic has taken its toll, and operating theatres at Leeds Hospital were transformed into an Intensive Care Unit, once most elective surgery was stopped. Staff working alongside Clare had to take on new roles, because "they were dealing with new challenges, covid patients and, sadly, end of life care. They were communicating with relatives through I-pads or telephones, which was unfamiliar and, for some staff, devastating. Supporting staff during that time was challenging and emotional. Under huge pressure, they also felt guilty and lonely, as many were forced to stay away from their own families to keep them safe.” Clare and the team turned one office into a hub to offer colleagues a shoulder to cry on when things got really tough and were able to signpost them to the clinical psychologist for further support. “All that emotion was really tricky," she concludes. "The secret to success where I work is that people know we care about them.”
*Since this article was published, Clare Hutton has changed role and is currently the Theatre & Pre-Assessment Matron at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.
Genevieve Shaw, editor