Philip Shelley FIH shares insight about working in the NHS during the pandemic, where effective leadership is more important than ever.
Tell us a little bit about your career history in hospitality including your current role.
As a trained chef I worked for Trust House Forte – Skyway Hotel at Heathrow and the Imperial Hotel in Torquay as well as chef managing in a couple of restaurants and country pubs. Currently I am Deputy Head of Facilities at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust – this has been a service of 28 years in the NHS (Musgrove Park Hospital) starting as Head Chef.
How has it been working in hospital catering during the pandemic?
Recent months have been extremely testing and I have nothing but admiration for all those working on the front line as well as those working in support services. Understanding the changing circumstances that happens with regularity helps you realise the adaptability of the teams that you work with on a day to day basis. What has been apparent throughout all the challenges is the growing kindness for each other – the well-being of our colleagues is paramount if they are to care for our nation.
How have you ensured catering teams have remained motivated during this crisis?
Leadership is more important than ever – teams look to you for guidance, advice, comfort and compassion. All of these traits help to create a togetherness that has never been more important. Nutrition, Hydration and Food Safety has been scrutinised to ensure that our patients, staff and visitors receive exactly what they require to recover and recuperate.
What’s your top piece of advice for coping during such challenging times?
Working in the NHS during covid-19 has certainly been an enormous challenge. I have spent a number of years building relationships with allied professionals and clinical colleagues and experiencing them deal with current pressures has been life changing. Having respect for each other and understanding how best to work with and support each other is critical if we are to cope successfully. It is also vital to take time to step away from the action on regular occasions – looking after your own well-being will affect the way you deal with your decision making.
Why did you choose to work in the public sector and what are the benefits?
To be honest it was not a choice at the top of the list; like most chefs going through catering college I wanted to work in hotels and restaurants – being able to showcase great food and show off a bit! An old friend contacted me on a couple of occasions to try and persuade me to join the NHS but I struggled to understand the benefits. What I have realised is that whilst training, chefs need to realise that learning about nutrition and leadership in the NHS is a fantastic opportunity to develop their skills as well as personally progressing their maturity and teamwork in people management.
You have recently been named as one of the most influential people in Public Sector Catering, what did this mean to you?
Public Sector Catering covers a multitudes of areas and certainly attracts fantastic individuals and leaders. As always I feel privileged to be in such esteemed company but realise that it is a precious time to listen and partake in debate that has the opportunity to improve the profession that we are in. Over time the grouping has changed which proves that our influencers have a pivotal role to play through the media and political world.
What advice do you have for getting to the top of your chosen field?
Although I enjoy changing circumstances and relish the opportunity to flex and adapt, I am old fashioned in my thinking – work hard, respect others and your time will come. Listening is key; throughout the NHS Food Review, I spent 95% of my time listening to patients, general public, staff, specialists and influencers. You never stop learning and I am in admiration for those making decisions that affect all of our futures.
What can other areas of hospitality learn from how hospital caterers have dealt with the pandemic?
Even in the current climate we continue to learn from each other, but what has been outstanding is the continual relationships that have strengthened the resolve and determination to succeed. Accepting, that whatever our grade or title we are in this together and by focussing on the necessary end result, anything is possible. Hierarchy should earn respect not demand exertion.
Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the pandemic long-term?
At the moment it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel but it is crucial that we stay positive and hope that we build on the constructive efforts made to link the various catering industries together. Whilst the restaurant and hotel trade has suffered the public sector has grown in its dependence on the skills of our nation. Now is the time for those with culinary skills to link into various sectors and share their individual skills to promote great cuisine – we want to learn from the best and this is the opportunity.
What’s been the most memorable day of your career so far?
Since August 2019 I have led the Independent Review of NHS Food and this has sometimes been an overwhelming experience. Meeting individuals and teams in the NHS throughout the country has been captivating – understanding what it takes to drive catering, dietetic and nursing teams together to strengthen the “Power of 3” approach proves that anything is possible. On the 26th October 2020 I was with the Prime Minister, Matt Hancock and Prue Leith to launch the Review Report, this was certainly memorable but is only the start of what needs to be done.
Which elements of your IoH membership have you found the most valuable since you joined?
Being able to read articles from those in our industry is vital if we are to learn quickly – our membership is highly qualified to advise and particularly in recent times it has been invaluable to take time to understand the different angles and approaches that our members write and share on line.
You became a Fellow in September, what did this recognition mean to you?
It was huge honour; having worked in the industry since I was 16, I feel addicted to the hospitality service. I have always believed that the NHS and Hospitality go hand in hand – serving our public to the best of our ability, treating those we serve with kindness and often achieving the best results in times of crisis. I hope to work closely with those that are trying make their mark in the industry, sharing my experiences and challenges should be an effective way to improve decision making for others.