A New Front Line

Head of Resourcing at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Chris Grogan, tells Civvy Street what he admires most about the Armed Forces and Service-leavers in general.

The NHS appears to be quite a pressurised working environment. What kind of qualities do good candidates tend to have?

I think good candidates have got to be resilient; you see a lot of frankly not very pleasant things happening to people. We are the organisation that bears the brunt when horrible things happen to people: they get illnesses, they get sick, they get involved in accidents etc and so you have to be very, very resilient to work in an organisation like this.

I also think that if you are an individual that doesn’t work as part of a team, you will find it very, very difficult and very challenging to work in such a large organisation as this (the NHS). It’s never usually just one person that makes somebody well or who solves their problem, it’s invariably a team of people within the organisation that will get people on the road to mending and it’s really about understanding that one individual isn’t going to be able to solve all of the problems and that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. It’s about being aware of how to interface with other people, how to really hand on the care of a patient from one person or one group to another, in a highly respectful, caring way. Teamwork is really big for us.

Do you admire the depth of operation that the British Armed Forces are able to mount in what is effectively temporary infrastructure?

If you look at the types of battlefield trauma we’ve seen on the television day-in, day-out, that the medical staff in particular are dealing with, in terms of the resilience and team-working side of things, these are ideal characteristics for potential employees of a large treatment trust like ours.

There are immediate similarities between the medical personnel in the Army and what we do but I also think that if you look at all of the other trades within the Army, the logistics people, the IT people – I think there’s some quite strong parallels between them and what you would find here in terms of looking for people with certain skills. That’s with an element of training; they’re exactly the type of person we’re looking for.

Do you think that the NHS should do more to encourage Service-leavers with medical experience to join the NHS rather than risk losing them to other sectors?

Sure, but I think it’s not just in terms of those most obvious roles. There are a whole host of other trades that could be potentially useful to a large organisation like ours. We employ about 10,500 people and yes, whilst the vast majority are in some way in frontline care – doctors, nurses etc, there is a whole back office as well. There are lots of administration oriented roles within the NHS that don’t require nursing or doctor qualifications, so it goes beyond the obvious roles. There are other roles, as you’ll find in any large organisation or plc. There are lots of support roles that you would find once you look beyond the headlines.

M&S for example, you’d think ‘well, they sell things’. They’re a shop, but eventually you then look at all of the back office and all of the support functions and you’d be surprised to find some of the types of people that an organisation like M&S employs.

In terms of that diversity of trades, a thing that the Armed Forces does very well, can the NHS learn lessons from the Armed Forces?

I think so. What we can learn is that we can maybe take people who have trained in a particular area and really try to help them or retrain them to become potentially qualified in another. It might be somebody who is serving in a platoon on the frontline. Normally, you find in the platoon, not so much someone who is medically trained but someone who is responsible for any injuries that take place but is not a fully qualified doctor or nurse, for example. These types of people would be ideal to work in accident and emergency as healthcare assistants.

A healthcare assistant is an individual who is not medically trained as such. They’re not doctors but are people who are very much on the front line of assisting patients and assisting qualified nurses in very high stress situations. On the face of it, I’m sure we could use that type of individual quite readily on our front line.

Do you find that Service-leavers are able to slot into the NHS relatively easily?

My general impression would be that when you’re literally on the front line in a foreign country you’re perhaps always on your guard. Perhaps some people might find it quite challenging to settle back into civilian life – they’ve been in the Armed Forces for a period of time, so it’s not so much a weakness as such but it’s something that the Army might need to help with. If you’re no longer on the front line, how do you re-adjust to working in a civilian or domestic environment? It’s not so much necessarily something that we’d look out for but I think it needs to be pretty evident that people are comfortable with having made that shift after maybe having spent many years of their lives in the Armed Forces.

What might be the biggest surprise for a Service-leaver who joins the NHS?

Well, I come from the private sector and the biggest surprise for me was how good the people are and how quick everything is. My perception of coming to the public sector having worked for large corporates like Sony and Thomas Cook was that things might be a little bit slow but, you know, the complete opposite is true. So that might be a surprise to people coming out of the Armed Forces. They might think well, I’ve been living in Camp Bastion or on an airbase with 48 hours notice of deployment; always on edge, where things move very quickly and circumstances are constantly changing etc. They might think, well, actually coming into healthcare could be really slow – but the complete opposite is true. It really surprised me.

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