Gateshead Health NHS: Case Study


Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust is a major employer in north-east England, employing more than 3,000 people.

It provides a full range of local acute services for elective and emergency care, including in-patient, outpatient, day case and day care. The Trust also provides sub-regional breast screening services, and is the north-eastern hub for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.

Training/coaching/consulting needs
Among the Trust’s strategic future goals is running first-class hospitals, making the best use of public money – and being the best possible employer.

As Mary Darroch (OD and Staff Development Manager) explains, this means ongoing investment in staff. “We’re committed to employee development, both in their existing roles and for their future careers. This includes developing a coaching culture in the organisation, which supports staff coaching, training and assistance in attaining relevant qualifications.”

Mary secured three-year funding to engage external support for the coaching and training programme – especially for training managers in generic coaching skills and to put a number of internal practitioners through their coaching qualifications.

As Mary says, choosing the right provider was critical. “Ideally, we needed someone who knew the NHS’ unique culture and ways of working, understood unique challenges on time and resources, and who could also work effectively across all employee and management levels – no small order!”

The main challenges included:

  • implementing appropriate training/coaching across a broad employee base;
  • maintaining professional credibility across a wide age range and from the most junior staff member to senior consultants; and
  • getting people through the qualification with sufficient coaching, with consideration of work pressures

Asked about appointing Cath as the external provider, Mary says: “Cath had done similar work in the past, with the Business Services Authority. We had attended her sessions there, and participated in the training, so we could see what she was like as a trainer, and we were very impressed. We also thought her extensive background meant she would fit in well with our organisation.”

Mary adds that Cath’s professional approach, relevant background and reasonable rates also deterred her from seriously considering other externals. She adds: “And I haven’t been disappointed!”

Mary has seen multiple benefits to the Trust following Cath’s appointment. “One immediate benefit was Cath’s inside knowledge of the NHS and how it works, “ she says. “It makes a big difference, as there’s no need to explain the culture and what is and is not practical. Cath also links into other NHS initiatives, which another external might not understand.”

The programme now offers various training levels, including a two-day ‘fast track’ for senior managers and medical staff.

“Cath is fairly young, and I was initially slightly concerned about her credibility with more senior managers – but it simply hasn’t been an issue, “ comments Mary. “The feedback has been excellent. Cath has assisted with setting up training for coaching practitioners and for managers in generic coaching skills. We’ve also set up a coaching practitioners network with Cath’s help to support the people who are going through the qualifications or have a keen interest in coaching.”

The project has undergone various adjustments and re-thinks to fit practitioner’s complex needs: “Cath has coped well with the organisational challenge – we talked it through, and she came up with ideas that we could take and develop.”

The Coaching Skills for Managers programme, with a flexible approach, has been the most successful. Mary explains, “We’ve developed a coaching approach to leadership. This means rather than telling people what to do, helping them to think for themselves and thereby promoting greater autonomy at lower levels. Managers can see the benefits, and feel they are getting the best out of people.  It’s an excellent alternative to people taking time out for training. The new coaching skills are more enduring, and give managers and leaders that necessary edge.”

Mary also appreciates Cath’s ability to share knowledge and information.  “I’ve used Cath as a sounding board a lot – which she’s very good at!” she says. “She provides more headspace – being on the outside looking in – she can see the wood and the trees. That’s incredibly useful.”

“She’s also a good catalyst for me,” adds Mary. “I’ve got so many plates in the air, and Cath’s good at giving me the odd necessary nudge. She keeps thing moving as she’s very dynamic in her approach.”

Future plans include developing coaching amongst medical staff. “As consultants become more involved in delivering the organisation’s priorities, coaching is a useful approach for them to use with doctors,” says Mary. She adds that there have already been four or five consultants on programme. Coaching will also be used for effective induction of new consultant staff in the Trust.

Mary concludes: “We’re growing and developing coaching in different ways that add value to the Trust. Cath and I work together in partnership to find ways to do just that!”

Indeed, in a recent national NHS Staff Survey, 70% of respondents would recommend the organisation as a good place to work – making the Trust one of the highest ranking acute trusts in the UK


Written for Cath Brown Consultancy: Cath Brown specialises in enabling management development, and effective coaching practice at all levels.