Humans of HR: The story behind the leading lights – their career, motivation and achievements.
Helen Ives is Chief People Officer at NHS Professionals, responsible for HR for around 1300 corporate employees and 190,000 bank members currently working for the NHS.
06 November 2023
Simon Kent, Head of Content – The HR World
Having started her career on an HR graduate scheme in financial services, which gave her a thorough grounding in all aspects of the HR profession, Helen Ives decided she wanted experience across a range of sectors. With this intention, early in her career, she worked in logistics/shipping, tech and digital, and professional services.
“I loved the learning that came from applying HR in such different settings,” she says, “from dockside in the shipping business to data centre in web hosting.”
Ives joined the NHS after working for a short spell as a freelance consultant. “I got to know the NHS as a client and I was blown away by the people that I worked with and when they asked me to join them, I didn’t hesitate,” she says. “I love learning and have continued studying through my career, which has been a juggle at times. I studied part time for my MSc in Occupational Psychology and then pursued my FCIPD and I am still studying.”
Creating a Great Place to Work
As Chief People Officer at Solent NHS Trust, Ives designed and delivered the organisation’s ‘Great Place to Work’ strategy. The project earned her the Innovation in Practice Award from the British Psychological Society for work on leadership development. This approach to values-based leadership put people first and stems from a belief that organisations are stronger when they inspire a strong sense of belonging, inclusion and connection to a common purpose. The Trust also won the HSJ Award for Engagement as a result of this work.
Ives was seconded to the NHS England team as workforce and training lead for the Covid-19 vaccination programme at the end of the Summer in 2000 becoming part of the inception of the vaccination programme which she regards as having been a great privilege. She then went on to be the Chief People Officer for the Hampshire & Isle of Wight healthcare system and took on the role of accountable Executive for the vaccination programme, delivering over 4 million vaccinations in the time she was there.
“Our success was delivered through workforce innovation,” she says, “accessing a completely new talent pool of people not currently working for the NHS, training to task as a vaccinator, and delivering across a range of workforce models, for example, volunteers and reservists.”
Interestingly, Helen Ives’s first degree was in psychology. During this time a careers talk from an Occupational Psychologist at Ford inspired her to think about applying psychology to the world of work, leading to a dual career pathway, starting with work experience in HR and then moving on to a second degree in Occupational Psychology.
Feeling of Purpose
“It’s the feeling of purpose that got me hooked,” she says, “the sense of contributing to something that makes a difference to so many people. That’s also what brought me to NHS Professionals; to quote one of our values, ‘we care, it’s personal’.”
One of the aspects of the job that continues to inspire Ives is the chance to shape the future of work. She finds the changes that occurred around the pandemic – and consequently the aspects of work that remained changed fascinating to consider and looks forward to playing her part in the continuing evolution of the workplace.
“I believe people are stronger when they work together as a team and organisations are stronger when they focus on creating the conditions for people and teams to thrive,” she says.
One of the most important challenges Ives currently faces is how to deliver systemic HR to the business as it grows, evolves and meets the real-time challenges of the healthcare staffing sector.
“We all know that success is ultimately based on the power of people,” she says. “Getting all parts of HR delivery to work together in a way that puts people first is key to success, now and in the future. We are working hard to train more people, actively move them between roles and support their growth.”
About NHS Professionals
Established in 2001 NHS Professionals was a Special Health Authority (SpHA) before being incorporated as a limited company in 2008. The role of the business remains the same – to place people within NHS Trusts and the wider healthcare system in England. As such, it is a critical workforce partner to the NHS, boosting over 190,000 registered flexible workers (‘Bank Members’) – making it the largest provider of flexible workers to the NHS with Bank Members including clinical and non-clinical staff at all grades, across multiple specialisms from the ward floor to senior leadership levels. Locum doctors are represented by the specialist Doctors Direct service and there’s a dedicated volume international recruitment team known as NHS Professionals International.
The NHS Professionals service approaches staffing with the whole NHS in mind, helping NHS Trusts to address agency costs, maintaining staffing levels and patient care by putting fully qualified and compliant staff in places to care. It is wholly owned by the Department of Health and Social Care, and any operating surplus made by NHS Professionals is re-invested into the wider healthcare economy.
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