Published: 12:00, 05 March 2012
| Updated: 13:29, 05 March 2012
Hospital bosses are spending £120,000 teaching staff how to talk to patients - despite axing more than 70 jobs.
We can reveal staff at Medway Maritime Hospital are consulting on redundancy plans as the directors grapple with a £3.5 million deficit.
Yet 2,000 of them are midway through a course by motivational speaker Michael Heppell, who describes his style as like "shot-gunning a bucket of expresso", to improve how they "interact and communicate with patients".
Internal "ambassadors" on his Hearts and Minds course were even handed orange business cards to reward colleagues' good work - featuring a meerkat and the phrase "heads up!".
One clerical worker, whose job is at risk, said: “The meerkat cards were fun at first, they brought a bit of joviality and everyone was swapping them round, but the novelty wore off after a couple of days.
“I supported the course at the start, but many people have since opted out. A lot of us think it’s become patronising and demoralising.”
The 104 hand-picked “ambassadors” went on away days with the firm, and are now teaching the course themselves to 2,000 colleagues.
A disgruntled group of staff said: “To be told your job is at risk and then told in the next breath, ‘Never mind, keep your head up and smile’?
“We thought you rewarded five-year-olds with star charts, not intelligent professional people. We want to know how much this course cost us taxpayers at a time of cutbacks. It’s another complete waste of money.”
A spokesman for the Medway NHS Foundation Trust said the course was launched due to patient feedback, adding: “Our patients feel we need to be better at communicating with them, giving them the information they need, providing appropriate discharge advice and engaging with them in discussions about their care.”
Michael Heppell, who billed the NHS £120,000 plus VAT for the course, according to a trust spokesman, describes himself on his website as “the cure to an average life” and says his lifetime’s goal is to “positively influence one million lives”.
The self-help coach has 20 years’ experience, wrote a best-selling book called How to be Brilliant and has appeared on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 show. He has previously been hired by public bodies, including Northumberland County Council and the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.
Another staff member at the hospital, in Windmill Road, Gillingham, said: “I might have to re-apply for my job. It’s like hell at the moment and this course is just typical. Maybe instead of paying to teach us how to talk to patients, they should pay us to do our jobs.”
The 104 staff are each spending three hours training front-line colleagues, in 15-minute sessions spread over 12 weeks. The course is due to finish in about a month.
A trust spokesman said: “This work is part of the trust’s strategy to improve patient experience – the aim being to ensure an excellent experience for every patient, every time.”
More by this authorDanny Boyle
This website and its associated newspaper are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)