The NHS was first introduced in 1948, and since then has become the world’s second largest single-payer healthcare system, with an astonishing 930 hospitals, providing all citizens in the UK with free healthcare. The NHS is greatly appreciated by many, especially during times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when healthcare is vital. However, during COVID and still now, healthcare systems are being put under a lot of stress, with nurses and doctors struggling to cope with the abundance of patients that come in each day; waiting times in A&E can easily exceed four hours. To get a better insight into the struggles of the NHS staff, I was fortunate enough to secure an  interview with Ms Kalene Sheppard, the Head of Operations for medicine at Darent Valley Hospital. Darent Valley Hospital was first opened in September 2000. It serves a growing population of around 500,000 people and has a bed capacity of 463.

Ms Kalene Sheppard has been working in the NHS for an admirable 36 years, and in this particular trust for 15 years. She began her career as a nurse and progressed impressively to become one of the first Nurse Practitioners to do endoscopic procedures. She successfully proceeded to become a Matron and showed her passion by writing an article for the Nursing Times about a project she worked on at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital called healing the environment ‘If colour helps healing.’

During her time working in the NHS, Ms Sheppard has seen many progressions in healthcare to help improve patients’ care, such as improvements in the safety of delivery of babies and better care for stroke patients just to name a few. Despite these positive implementations, the NHS is still facing setbacks, especially after COVID- 19, which I wanted to delve into more. Ms Sheppard believes that whilst the rising pressure on the NHS is multifactorial, the COVID pandemic played a big role in human performance overall - it restricted the growth and personal development of staff (especially youngsters), compounded by the stress of juggling responsibilities between family life and work.

Even with these external factors contributing to the increasing pressure put on the NHS, Ms Sheppard also elaborated on personal day-to-day challenges she faces as a manager when working with many different colleagues. Ms Sheppard struggles sometimes to ensure everyone’s ideas are taken into account. One way her and her team are trying to overcome this issue is by running an operational board where everyone can freely share their ideas and generate action plans collaboratively.  She also highlighted how staff shortages and excessive workload can lead to very limited support. She herself faces this challenge regularly, especially when trying to address complicated issues within the trust, such as financial pressures. Ms Sheppard also told me: ‘I’m misunderstood and doesn’t always put me in good stead, I quietly persevere to get to the end.’ This made me realise just how much tougher it is to be a hospital manager. Despite all this, Ms Sheppard continues to admirably plough on and ensure everyone is content within their job and the hospital front door remains open and safe to patients.