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In Conversation With...Gemma Shipley

Gemma Shipley

All our teams are currently working extremely hard as we, along with the rest of the NHS, tackle Covid -19. That’s why we wanted to give our colleagues the spotlight, as part of our In Conversation With interviews, to share what they’re doing and the impact on them.

Gemma Shipley is our divisional manager for frailty, geriatric and emergency medicine – quite a difference from her starting out in the Finance team at our Trust! Here she shares her experience as a non-clinical member of staff, leading a team during the pandemic.

Age: 33

Lives: In Chelmsford – born and bred!

And: Gemma was almost a maths teacher – until an operation meant she missed the start of her training.

Tell how you moved from finance to leading a clinical team at our Trust

I joined our Trust as an assistant finance manager in 2013. I enjoyed it; however, I wanted to work in a way where I could contribute more directly to patient care.

So I moved into an operational role, helping to change patient pathways, which also allowed me to use my skills as a finance manager by being considerate of money too. I joined our Gastro team as service manager on secondment in 2018, then became deputy divisional manager.

I moved into my current role in July 2019. It involves overseeing the services and facilitating the business side for our clinical pathways, such as considering the costs involved of what we need to provide a service, recruitment and estates plans, and putting together businesses cases when we need something new or to make changes.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your role?

When the pandemic first hit, we drastically reduced the number of meetings we attended so we could focus on what we needed to implement to deal with Covid-19. That made it more important than ever to get out and about and speak to people, to check if they were okay, keep them updated on service changes and ask if I could do anything to help.

A lot of my role has been around resolving issues and what has been really good during this time, is that everyone has been on the same page – divisional barriers have been completely broken down.

What this pandemic has shown is the pace at which we can do things – it’s been phenomenal. We’ve changed pathways, moved entire services. We’ve done things within weeks which would have taken several months to achieve before.

Covid-19 forced us to think about bow we could keep vulnerable patients away from our hospitals – such as moving consultations to over the phone. We’ve also had to work more closely with our partners in the community to provide support for our patients outside our hospitals.

It also meant up-skilling staff, so we had enough to cover critical services, and more collaboration across teams. We really became one big team, with a single pool of staff to ensure we could cover our wards and departments safely.

One really nice thing I saw was how colleagues within our teams were supporting each other, such as helping each other out with childcare.

The days have certainly been longer and less structured than I’m used to, however, less meetings allowed me to think more about changes we needed to make and what we wanted to achieve.

Whilst this period of time has been absolutely tragic, there have been lots of silver linings too. I’m pleased that the NHS won’t ever go back to the way it was before. It’s changed for the better.

And I’ve learnt so much, not only new things about delivering a service, but I’ve learnt about myself too – and the leader I aspire to be. It will certainly be a time I remember forever.

How was it for you as a non-clinical member of staff overseeing clinicians?

Mostly it has been fine as we’re all working together to support our patients. However, I did sometimes feel guilty that I wasn’t the one donning PPE to go into high risk areas and care for patients with Covid-19, especially as I am the one enforcing our policies and the national guidance.

I did have moments of thinking, ‘who am I to be telling our clinicians what they should be doing?’

Tell us more about your career

I studied forensic biology at university. I loved maths and science but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do – I did enjoy the social side of university!

I decided I want to be a maths teacher, however, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at around the same time and was having an operation which meant I missed the start of the training. So I ended up getting a job at Essex County Council as a learning and development admin assistant.

It was from looking at internal jobs there that I saw a trainee accountant role so I did that. I moved to Broomfield Hospital before joining our Trust.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I like that I get to meet and interact with so many different people – it helps that I love chatting. I also enjoy supporting my team.

I’ve got a great team and I’ve been really impressed by how everyone has pulled together at this time. Despite the difficult circumstances, there has been times of shared fun and laughter.

What do you like getting up to outside work?

In usual non-lockdown circumstances I love to socialise. It was at a leaving do that I met Alexia Young, our Therapies Manager, we got on so well that we ended up going on holiday to Vegas together – before we’d even so much as been for dinner! Luckily, we got on really well and we’re still really good friends now.

I also enjoy spending time with my family; Sunday afternoon family BBQs are my favourite thing!

And our favourite question of In Conversation With… do you have any pets?

My Cockapoo, Rolo. I got him when I was recovering from my Crohn’s operation and I’m obsessed with him! Although, the only time I have been bottom of the class in anything was at puppy school with him!

I’ve also got two indoor rabbits, Roger and Toffee.

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