Developing leadership, capability and competence

By Emily Whales, 3rd March 2021

As part of the AHSN NENC’s work to increase the quality improvement capacity and capability within the region to deliver safer care for our population, we funded a cohort of students to undertake a postgraduate certificate in Patient Safety and Quality Improvement at Sunderland University in 2020.

We have agreed to fund 50% of tuition fees for a new intake of students from the North East and North Cumbria region to undertake this accredited programme and applications are now open. To give potential new applicants an insight into how the course has benefitted students in last year’s cohort, we talk to Emily Whales who is due to complete the course in April 2021.

I have worked in the NHS for nearly 25 years and have worked on various quality improvement projects in that time. Whilst working as a Lead Pharmacy Technician for Medicines Safety in the Pharmacy Department of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity by my employer to apply to undertake the AHSN NENC’s post graduate certificate in Patient Safety and Quality Improvement – developing leadership, capability and competence at Sunderland University.

The course is split into two modules that run sequentially:

  • Developing Leadership and Action in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
  • Evidencing Capability and Competence in Continuously Improving Care.

It has been a strange time to be undertaking an educational qualification. The course was initially planned to last for eight months and complete at the end of August 2020 but, unsurprisingly due to the pandemic, this has been delayed.

I attended Sunderland University for the first module’s face-to-face teaching at the start of 2020 before the first wave of the COVID pandemic hit. The second section of the course has been delivered remotely and I am part way through my final assignment. As you’d expect, I have found some parts of the course challenging. I have not undertaken formal education for a number of years and adapting to this while working and juggling a family has been hard at times. Since moving to remote learning I have missed the offline chats with peers in my class and the course leaders which I find helps with understanding of the course material and sharing of ideas. There are support resources available from the university library and course tutor and I would advise that anyone undertaking the course to take advantage and access these resources at the earliest opportunity. In hindsight, I wish I had accessed these at the beginning of the course.

Coincidently, in January I started an 18-month secondment as project lead with the AHSN NENC. The course has given me valuable insight and tools to enable me to understand and begin to plan quality improvement initiatives, and to use quality improvement science methodology to develop, test, improve, spread and sustain successful interventions.

Culture forms an important role in any quality improvement and the PGCert course has given me a greater depth of understanding on the impact this has on the implementation and roll out of quality improvement initiatives. I have also been able to do a lot of self-reflection during the course particularly with regard to my strengths and weaknesses relating to leadership and what developments I need to work on to become a more compassionate, inclusive and effective leader.

In quality improvement projects that I have led on in the past we have not used quality improvement methodology in a formal sense. Using a more formal measurable framework means that improvements can be planned in a better manner, measured for their impact and changes required can be tailored to get a better outcome, which in turn improves patient and service user experience.

I am excited to put the new learning from the course into practice. I hope that the projects I work on using this evidence-based approach provides qualitative improvements that are successful in minimising adverse events, can be rolled out and sustained. The course promotes the culture of feedback and continuous improvement which I can incorporate into my work in the medicines safety aspect of the patient safety agenda. I would highly recommend the course for anyone involved in improvement work.