Portrait of Chris Rhodes

8 May 2024

Celebrating International Nurses Day

Celebrating International Nurses Day – with an interview with our wonderful and inspiring Chief Nursing Officer, Chris Rhodes. 

What a career you have had so far! Talk us through the milestones and what led you to Health Partners Group. 

“Like most nurses, I spent some time staffing on general wards including the Special Care Baby Unit at Maidstone Hospital. My husband was in the forces, which meant I had to change roles whenever he was posted – but this allowed me to work as a practice nurse and as a sister in the Falkland Islands, covering a wide range of duties including general wards, A&E and ITU.  

“My first permanent role in occupational health was with British Gas Trading when we returned from the Falklands to live in London in 1996. I quickly learned that there was a rather large and urgent knowledge gap that I needed to address, and so I enrolled at Middlesex University on their Occupational Health and Safety degree programme and worked towards the NMC specialist practitioner award.  

“I enjoyed working in OH providing services for a large range of clients, including the BBC contract. In 2014, I went to work with Dr Alasdair Emslie and Andrew Noble (Health Partners’ co-founders) as Chief Nursing Officer, setting up the fit-for-work service.  

I have worked with them ever since and share a real passion for excellence in clinical delivery – I love the constant innovation that is evident at Health Partners.

How has the role of occupational healthcare evolved in recent years? 

“I had a little ‘dabble’ in OH as early as 1990 when I worked some bank nurse shifts for a large defence client. The focus then was very much on treatments for injuries, and the role of a ‘factory nurse’ had no focus on wellbeing or preventative OH.  

“I like to think that we have come a long way since then, and though there will always be a requirement for the more reactive and statutory OH services, we know that we can have the most impact in engaging with our clients in more preventative work and really helping them to maintain a healthy workforce. 

In the last few years, it has been hugely rewarding to be able to access expert mental health support to enhance both the assessment process and for the first time to be able to refer straight into treatment pathways that may be unavailable or have very long wait times in the NHS.  

“Nurses and occupational therapists with a mental health background have been an important resource in OH for some time and provided an invaluable opportunity for employees to have an assessment that ideally suits their needs.  

“The ability to now cross-refer where appropriate for a more comprehensive range of mental health and neurodiversity services that includes clinical psychologist treatment and consultant psychiatry opinion has meant that we can provide a much more rounded and end-to-end service for our clients that supports their staff to thrive in work.”  

How has delivery changed since the pandemic? 

“Remote work has always been a key part of our service delivery for case management services. The pandemic forced us to think more widely and creatively to envisage how we could provide more complex and a wider range of clinical services for clients. It helped us to realise that some of the services that we had previously believed were much better served using network partners were actually resolved much better remotely with our own expertise.  

“The use of video technology has helped us to push this further, and it helps that the employees and clients we serve are now much better adapted to remote options for life in and outside of work.”  

How has the Health Partners Academy changed things for your team? 

“The training academy has been an exciting project to plan and to deliver. On a very practical level, it has helped to ensure we maintain a pipeline of talented health professionals who we hope will have long careers in occupational health and who help us to meet our clients’ needs.  

“But the benefits are much wider reaching than this: It has provided training, mentoring and progression opportunities for many of our existing experienced staff who take real pride in helping clinicians develop into great case managers.”  

What advice would you give to nurses who are adapting to the remote work model within occupational health, and how can they ensure they remain connected and effective in their roles? 

“I think we have ample evidence now that remote working can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, but there are a number of things that I believe become more important to consider in remote roles. Using the camera routinely for calls with colleagues helps us to know each other better. Taking an interest in the lives of our colleagues is also an essential part of a healthy working life, which includes having some of the more ‘routine/mundane’ chats and conversations that may have been much easier in an office setting and perhaps taking a little more effort when we work remotely.  

I also think it is more important than ever that clinicians chat to each other about cases, in a way that we might have done more routinely in an office or clinic setting. It takes a little more effort to pick up the phone, but we learn so much from chatting through cases and considering other viewpoints that we should never hesitate to seek advice.

Why do you think HPG is the best OH services provider in the UK? 

“That’s an easy one! There is objective evidence for this in our superb and unbeatable client retention rate. But, for those of us who work here either clinically or operationally, what I believe makes it a great place to be is the commitment to excellence in everything that we deliver and the exciting breadth and pace of growth that we have seen in the last eight years especially.  

“It has allowed us not only to have outstanding access to a wide range of services that we deliver to meet the needs of our clients, but also exciting opportunities for progression for staff. I also love some of the fun activities and challenges that we have been able to offer for our staff – from the team fitness challenges to the cookery sessions throughout the year.”