Some Personal Reflections by Jeff Ace

When TS Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month…” he ruled himself out of the running for patron poet of the NHS. April’s fine; the flu season is over, Norovirus is winding down and A&E attendances / acute admissions numbers are actually beginning to resemble Chief Exec planning assumptions. No, February and March are I think the trough of the cycle in the NHS year. This is when it can seem like winter’s been going on forever and people can feel just a little drained of optimism and bounce. Everyone will be different in how they react to this drop in bounciness of course; I definitely become more irritable and see a marked change in my threshold for when swearing is the appropriate response.

To be frank, I’ve been feeling a bit lower than the seasonal norm recently. This has nothing to do with work but all to do with the twists and turns of modern family life. My lovely old step dad died in February after a steep dementia driven decline. He’d spent his last couple of months in a care home in Swansea and whilst staff there were great, each visit re-emphasised the unfairness of a good life ending with multiple indignities. He was a man who’d fought (and survived blast injuries) in Burma, had a career and great family life and watching his last few weeks through the sort of time lapse lens of weekend visits was hard.

When I got the message that he’d died, I managed to take a few days off to help my mother with the various arrangements. She somewhat disrupted this plan by falling and breaking her femur on the first morning after I’d arrived. Fair play to the Welsh Ambulance Service and Morriston Hospital in Swansea, the transport, assessment, admission and timeliness of operation were all as you would wish it to be but I began to reflect, as I was supporting my mother through this whilst trying to arrange death certificate, funeral and various pension type things, that I was getting a touch stressed.

image1A day or two later when I was trying to return to Scotland, I was marooned for hours by Storm Doris in a Crewe station where the only remaining foodstuffs seemed to be Yorkie bars. By this point in the week I could imagine no circumstances in which swearing was not the appropriate response.

All of this was a bit sudden and unfortunately coincidental, but I think it’s important to recognise just how many of our 4,500 staff are going through this same juggling of work and family issues and the impact it can have on their resilience, particularly at the end of a long NHS winter. Our workforce is ageing along with the wider population and we now have substantial numbers of people who’ll be routinely dealing with issues of care and support for relatives whilst continuing to work in a health and care system that’s never been busier.

We desperately need our people to retain their resilience and their creativity both to continue delivering safe, person centred care and because of the need to reinvent our services to meet the extreme financial and recruitment challenges we’re now experiencing. Our population is relying on us and we simply can’t let them down so we have to find ways to get through the times when optimism feels hardest.

So this is my personal shortlist of techniques that seem to work for me in attempts to retain some bounciness in the face of difficult odds. It was compiled in a Yorkie fuelled sugar rush in beautiful Crewe so might lack the academic rigour of other approaches. As a result, I would guess its evidence base is only somewhere between homeopathy and wearing your lucky pants on rugby international days.

1. Avoid political debates or press coverage of the NHS...

You know this makes sense. There are decent, passionate politicians and superb investigative journalists but life’s too short to wade through the nonsense to get to them. This winter I’ve heard that the problems in the NHS are down to managers (naturally), the patients using services incorrectly (!), GPs (what? I mean, really?) and health tourism (I can’t comment politely on this innumerate gibberish because my swearing threshold has been breached).
If you stumble inadvertently onto some Question Time debate on the NHS, don’t despair. Reflect instead on this recent IPSOS Mori poll on the public’s confidence in the truthfulness of various professions.

image2Solid, mid – table respectability for NHS Managers there.


Our Public Health colleagues are right on this one. It doesn’t seem much to matter whether it’s walking, cycling, or hitting a ball of some sort, I am a calmer, nicer bloke after exercise than before it.


Tricky one this, as I’ve already highlighted the stresses that come with family life. But it’s also brilliant, life-enhancing stuff and if I start skimping on my input to making it all work as well as life in a household with a teenage child can ever work, I feel lousy.

4.A bit of escapism…

Now and then I need my mind occupied by something so engrossing that it just about drives every worry out to the edges. Books or films work reasonably well here, but for me this is best achieved by immersing myself in sport watching (ideally rugby or cricket). I think we can all agree that this has been an awful year for rugby with results so freakish that I wouldn’t be surprised if certain people had burned their lucky pants. But there’s always an Ospreys game coming up, or the Lions to look forward to, or the prospect that this summer will finally see Glamorgan triumphant. And to top it all, there are impassioned arguments with your mates over essentially pointless things. Unbeatable.

It’s a short list of feel-better approaches and I’d welcome suggested additions of what works well for you. Using these was also only partly successful recently so apologies to anyone who’s experienced a slightly more distracted or grumpier me. April’s almost here and things are definitely on the up again.

Jeff Ace is the Chief Executive Officer at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

23 thoughts on “Some Personal Reflections by Jeff Ace

  1. Thanks for the wry smile on a Friday morning Jeff…I personally think the rugby has been better than recent years! I note the lack of alcohol in your coping strategy and applaud your abstinence…

  2. Nice blog Jeff- always good to reflect on our shared humanity, and glad you’re able to look forward to April more optimistically.
    As for freakish rugby results- I think I see where you’re going- but England being totally rattled by Italy and still winning was one thing, Scotland’s well deserved triumphs- well- that’s something else entirely!

  3. If only lucky pants solved all of our challenges 🙂
    Your blog has also made me reflect on our Carer Positive Employer agenda and working towards achieving the next level award. 1 in 7 people in the UK workplace are estimated to have caring responsibilities and as you say this will rise

  4. Excellent piece, the NHS I have experienced is far superior to anything I read or hear on the television. The staff are super resilient and I am pleased that they are the most trusted people on the planet. As for rugby, well, tomorrow is another day.

  5. Lovely sincere article Jeff. Always good to hear that Morriston Hospital is continuing to do a good job (excellent rugby club too!!).

    I will definitely be wearing my “lucky pants” tonight, may the best team win.

  6. what a lovely heartfelt blog to read Jeff. Appreciate the sharing and the reflections as they are so true for so many of us.

  7. Thank you Jeff for sharing this. It makes me hopeful and optimistic for all of us struggling and juggling with life events and work and sets out what we as individuals can do to help ourselves. Go Wales and Yorkies!

  8. Lovely, sentimental, honest post! Must have been hard seeing your dad’s decline for someone who clearly was a very special man. Funny, my husband also has lucky pants for rugby and cricket- I like to kid myself that he wore them when he met me…………..:)

  9. Your article made me smile! And cry! My dad died recently and the care and attention at the Cumberland Infirmary by all staff was second to none (except of course DGRI).

  10. Resilience, escapism, ageing workforce. Nicely captured in the blog. My seventeen year old daughter has recently commenced working with NHS D&G – doing her bit against the ageing workforce? She is really enjoying the camaraderie and the variety of work in the big white box. We do escapism together at the climbing wall every week – guaranteed to challenge us to and beyond our own personal limits, and shake the NHS out of our thoughts just for an hour or two.

  11. Brilliant blog Jeff and a stark reminder about what’s important in life. People have different perspectives of the “high heed yins” ranging from “it’s tough at the top” to ivory tower references. Your reflections just prove the point that we are all just people trying to do a good job while dealing with life and all the challenges it brings. Thanks for sharing, especially your pants

  12. Thank you Jeff, heart felt and real, the best kind of blogging. Conversations with my dog when we are out walking are a great way of keeping me feeling well, he is a great and active listener. I have also used the iResilience tool (personalised and confidential!) to help me explore what works at refilling the resilience reservoir. Circulating it to colleagues whenever we work on the stress and pressures of work life, and I would encourage you to have a go.

  13. Good blog! I’m wondering if Irish lucky pants are luckier than Welsh lucky pants? I’ll find out in a few hours time. I’m dreaming of Tommy Bowe coming off the bench to score the winning try.

  14. Thank you Jeff for this frank and genuine blog. I am in Athens at a Medical Retina Meeting and just came across your email after finishing a busy evening.
    Sounds that you had more than your fare share to deal with in recent months in addition to running a busy Trust and building the new hospital together with all the winter pressures.
    Your reflective blog made us all realise your caring nature and resilience as well as your profound sense of the fragility of our human nature.
    I quite agree with your 5 points. I just would like to add one of mine: that is ballroom dancing. It has given me the bounciness this winter months and I thoroughly recommend it. Do let me know if you ever want to try!

  15. I so enjoyed reading your blog Jeff and can identify with the juggling. you so eloquently describe, when there is a perfect storm in our lives which requires changes in direction without the time to allow the losses to sink in, because the ship needs steering to safe shores, your the first mate and your family, the crew, who are depending on you. I am also relieved that April is nearly here and sadly my optimisim at the begnning of the England Scotland rugby game on Satruday was diminished pretty quickly but will return as it always does. Caring for our loved ones is exhausting, relentless, and heartbreaking yet such a priviledge .


  16. Who wouldn’t want to work at NHS Dumfries and Galloway when you hear our own Chief Executive being courageous and talk from the heart, sharing their own personal tragedies and struggles whilst recognising the daily dilemmas people face within the workforce and then ending with ways to remain resilient.
    Thank you Jeff for a great blog.

  17. Thank you Jeff for your honest, personal reflection of your family life in the midst of death, loss, injury and everything else that you’ve conveyed so transparently. My heart goes out to your newly widowed Mum 😕 I find walking with my camera helpful when seasonal changes occur in the midst of stressful family times…the fact, that no matter how harsh the winter is, the snowdrops manage to break through freezing or sodden ground as signs of hope and as the days begin to lengthen…can spring be far away? I am very happy to be working for NHS D&G and look forward to getting to know more staff, including yourself. If together we can find creative ways of supporting each other at work AND when the needs of family and loved ones cause us to refocus on them for a while, we’ll have less regrets at the end of our lives which are so often too short. Take care, Dawn 🙂

  18. What a fantastic blog and I can certainly relate to many sentiments shared.
    I have to say as an ‘outsider’ I remain constantly impressed with the energy, enthusiasm and professionalism of NHS D&G at ALL levels. It demonstrated strong leadership values is injected through the whole structure; the region should be proud of you all!

  19. You blog ‘keeps it real’ as the less-aged population would say! Lovely/ sad/ funny to read. Humour should be added to your list…….. it’s proving helpful (peppered with the occasional expletive) in recovering from the ‘bounceless’ Scotland performance on Saturday.

  20. Thank you Jeff for this beautiful blog.
    Earlier today a couple of colleagues, members of our aging workforce, were reflecting life’s journey as we move from conversations that were around how we are and what we are doing to conversations about how the kids are and doing and moving recently to conversations about how our parents are and what they are doing. It is time, as you have so eloquently written, to bring that full circle and allow some focus on the person themselves. Take care and make great use of those lucky pants and bounciness techniques.

  21. thank you for this. For your honesty, humour and mostly for sharing your experience.
    Taking your advice I’m definitely going for that walk/run outside later
    I admire your example……..
    (ps lucky pants are a must!)

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