Resolving Conflict in the NHS Conference

On the 11th October 2017, Globis Mediation Group, in partnership with Derby Teaching Hospitals and NHS Providers, presented the first Resolving Conflict in the NHS Conference. This ground-breaking day was organised in response to the growing levels of conflict within the NHS. Held at the prestigious One Birdcage Walk, the day aimed to explore what a difference mediation could make to the NHS.

We have supported the NHS for many years with conflict management and have supported many Trusts with implementing mediation schemes. The NHS is increasingly harnessing the power of mediation with great success. There has definitely been an increase in the number of mediations taking place to resolve both internal cases between employees and external cases concerning patients and their families.

The room was filled with representatives from NHS Trusts and organisations from across the UK. Typical delegates were director level with a strong representation from HR and OD divisions.

Chaired by Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, key speakers covered a range of areas that really resonated with the audience. Delegates who attended shared their aims for the day as seeing how mediation can work in the NHS, getting a flavour of the types of interventions being used across other Trusts and to gain tips to implement in their own organisations.

The speakers and topics covered all areas of conflict resolution within the NHS and offered insight into how Trusts are implementing mediation with great success to recent statistics in the uptake of mediation provided by NHS Resolution.

After a welcome by Chris Hopson to set the scene, Dr Neil Pease (Executive Director Workforce and OD, Derby Teaching Hospitals) started the session with his presentation on ‘The Derby Experience’. Neil talked candidly about the challenges that Derby had faced with managing conflict. Exploring the extent and impact of conflict within the Trust, Neil explained how mediation offered an obvious solution and posed the question, can the NHS ever really ‘win’ the legal argument? Neil shared with the audience how Derby were developing conflict competence through a number of channels including making conflict a strategic issue, recasting policies with a focus on resolution and engaging a wider audience than HR. He also shared the experience of working with Globis Mediation Group to train accredited mediators and enhance their in-house mediation service. The service is proving to be very effective and continues to receive increasing numbers of referrals.

The next speaker was our own Clive Lewis OBE DL who presented his research on Mediation and Organisation Diagnosis in the NHS. Clive has been touring the country presenting the research to HR directors across the UK. The piece has also been nominated for an award with the Association of Business Psychology. Clive presented a hard-hitting presentation on the impact that conflict is having on the NHS. He explored the concept of medical mistakes and conflict being linked, and related this to how 1 in 10 acute patients are injured or killed by medical mistakes. Clive’s research really brought home the message of how serious conflict in the NHS is. He then discussed the essential eight, which are areas that he has identified as needing addressing in order to reduce conflict. These include equipping all employees with training on holding difficult conversations and ensuring that clinical leads are supported with the people management training skills that they require. Clive’s presentation prompted an energetic discussion in the room. The shocking statistics reinforced the importance of the issue of dealing with conflict in the health sector.

The day then included presentations on the following:

  • Chronic Embitterment – Professor Tom Sensky, West London Mental Health NHS Trust & Imperial College
  • The Importance of Conflict Resolution in Leadership – Stephen Hart, Manging Director, NHS Leadership Academy
  • Bullying, Freedom to Speak up and Protecting Whistle Blowers – Dr Makani Purva, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals
  • The Role of Personality in Understanding Conflict in the NHS – Anne Marie Dancy, Partner, Lumina Learning

All of which prompted discussion about what was happening within individual Trusts. There was consensus in the room that all Trusts were facing similar problems and that mediation seemed to be an obvious tool with which to manage them.

The last presentation of the day was on Resolving Patient Disputes and was given by Julienne Vernon, Head of Claims Quality, NHS Resolution. Presenting some context, Julienne explained how 10,686 clinical negligence claims were made during 2016/17. Julienne explained how the introduction of an in-house mediation scheme had seen strong steps into mediation being utilised and court proceedings being avoided.

All of the topics provoked energising discussions, shared experiences and a unified hope for the future.

The overwhelming theme that emerged from the day was that the experiences and frustrations of rising levels of conflict were shared across the country. By having frank and honest conversations about experiences, all attendees were able to feel reassured that it wasn’t just their Trust that was facing these challenges. The shared experiences also led to a sharing of ways forward. The overarching outcome of the day was a renewed passion to tackling the issues and finding a way to reduce conflict. Armed with guidance and tips from industry experts, the attendees were going back to their respective Trusts to share ideas and push the issue of conflict up the agenda.

Key messages from the day were:

Band 7 managers – these managers may have been promoted to management roles but not equipped with the relevant conflict management and difficult conversations training

Mediation works – various shared experiences highlighted the impact that mediation can have, its relatively low cost and the speed at which it can resolve aging conflicts. Although the word mediation can have hazardous connotations, sometimes, parties don’t realise the seriousness of the situation until the process is suggested.

Feedback given by delegates after the session included:

‘Many of the speakers were inspirational’

‘Excellent conference – inspiring, lots of food for thought’

‘Excellent conference – very good speakers’

Due the complexity of the NHS, introducing a comprehensive conflict management system isn’t going to be a quick process. However, a solid start has been made with results already being delivered. The day was a fascinating insight into the workings of the NHS and how mediation can play a key part in its future. The conference will be back in 2018 to see what progress has been made and we look forward to seeing the impact that mediation has made.

Helen Robinson2017