“I respect leaders who are transparent, value-driven and lead from the front.”

This blog was written by Judith Shevlin, Community Mental Health Nurse. Judith is one of 27 Northern Trust nurses and midwives taking part in the Nightingale Challenge. 

I am thrilled to be participating in the Northern Nightingale programme; it has been a privilege to be nominated. The programme has challenged me to develop personal leadership goals that will assist with my ongoing development.

One of my top goals for this year was to lead a service modernisation initiative (an area I am particularly passionate about) to improve how service users with Severe and Enduring Mental Health Illness (SMI) access physical health care. As service users with SMI are less likely to access support for their physical health than service users without an SMI, this can result in less favorable care outcomes. I believe that equity of care and health outcomes are vital, ensuring that the service delivers optimal outcomes for all service users.

COVID-19 has certainly hindered the progression of this particular goal, although some progress was made in the months prior to the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, my team and I have had to re-prioritise our time and focus on adapting to new ways of working driven by urgent changes to core operational policy, which has changed the way in which community mental health services are delivered. Ultimately the safety of service users is paramount so our focus has been on implementing a number of measures to ensure our SMI service users are safe, including changes to clinics, referral screening and risk management. I have taken an active role in helping to drive forward some of these changes in the team by taking a co-lead position with the Infection Prevention and Control nurse to ensure new standards are met.

Since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to progress some of my personal goals and therefore looked to continue developing my leadership skills using online resources and I have attended a series of leadership webinars which I have found very insightful. I have also been continually keeping up to date with Northern Trust guidance on COVID-19. As the pandemic progresses and begins to recede, I aim to restart the physical healthcare project and will adapt it as necessary to the ‘new normal’ environment.

Connecting with like-minded individuals

I have always placed emphasis on having a strong network of colleagues to lean on for support or just to discuss and share professional issues on an informal basis.

The Nightingale Programme has been an amazing way to connect with like-minded individuals from across the Trust who share a passion for nursing and midwifery.

My peers within the Nightingale Programme have been a great support as we undertake our journey on the Programme together. We set up chat groups between mental health professionals and have continued to share our issues and support each other, even as the main Nightingale activities have been postponed, and we have had to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This network has been invaluable.

I have also been engaging and learning from other Trust and health care leaders through social media, which has been a great source of information, signposting and reassurance.

Inspiring leadership

I have always respected leaders who are transparent, value-driven and lead from the front. A particular example of this style of leadership is evidenced in the Trust’s Locality Manager and Head of Service joining staff members carrying out COVID-19 swabbing in care homes. These managers put themselves in a situation that they as managers, they weren’t required to be in, but they led by example and demonstrated all of the Health and Social Care values of Open & Honesty, Excellence, Compassion and Working Together.

My personal leadership style is ‘collective leadership’; this is a style which I have seen as very compelling. It has been evident in the current situation as the Head of Service has always been open to engaging with staff, taking feedback on board, and working with all colleagues to gather a collective insight and making positive changes to the service.

I am thankful for the compassionate leadership modelled by all of my management team who understood and listened to employees concerns and acted to support me. This leadership style is effective in top-performing organisations across the world and I hope it is something that more senior management adopt and we create a collective leadership culture within the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. I certainly will be using collective leadership in any leadership activities I am involved in going forward.

I have been attending the HSC Leadership Centre’s ‘Webinar Wednesdays’ on how to enhance my collective leadership skills and have also been reading up on leadership styles in some of the world’s most leading-edge private sector organisations.

Coping strategies and resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional. As a nurse in Community Mental Health, I have continued to place priority on delivering patient-centred care. This has meant that I need to be able to deal with the unique challenges and stresses during this time. I have focused on self-care and mental wellbeing to ensure that I build resilience and remain healthy and focused.

Mental health services, although not dealing directly with COVID-19 cases, has seen a different aspect of the pandemic including a recent spike in anxiety referrals as service users struggle with social isolation, economic uncertainty and the rolling news cycle. As social isolation has reduced service users’ access to social wellbeing groups and activities, they are relying on key workers more than ever. I personally think that this trend will continue, putting strain on mental health services for a considerable time to come.

Some techniques I have been using to help build my personal resilience and wellbeing include reading, meditation and exercise.

I have started reading a book called ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Brown which talks about courageous leadership. I haven’t finished it, but I’m enjoying it so far and if I find it useful, I’ll share the recommendation with my Northern Nightingale teammates and my community mental health colleagues.

Taking care of yourself, enables you to take care of others, whether it is your family or service users.

Hear more from Judith in the video below…