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Experience so far at Heart of England

An update on progress from the Heart of England foundation Trust

Heart of England Foundation Trust has made a serious commitment to take part in the Hug a Hospital project. I share the story so far for the benefit of other trusts considering taking part. I hope it will also be of interest to anyone who wants to get involved in the project or just wants to keep tabs on progress.

I guess there are two points I need hospitals to get from this. The first is that I doubt it would ever have got off the ground if it was not for my insider knowledge of the organisation and a lot of personal pushing. Big organisations see the problems long before they see the advantages and it seems a lot to take on in the current stressful climate.

The second is that it turns out that these events can be very straightforward to organise so hospitals do not need to worry so much.

I hope the Heart of England experience will help hospitals that do not have a fifth column enthusiast like me decide that it is right for them to take up the challenge and get involved.

The start

Heart of England Foundation Trust is one of the biggest acute trusts in the country with three hospitals and a variety of community services. I work there as a consultant in renal medicine and have many years form as a medical manager.

The Hug a Hospital idea had been forming in my mind for some months following the success of#myNHSChristmas and I decided eventually to launch it nationally in early April. It seemed logical to jump the gun with my own organisation so I sent this email to the chief executive the week before launch.


This is a new idea that I am developing using my social media “Big Up the NHS” campaign. I hope you will want HEFT to get involved. The rationale is attached. This is the first draft of the text I will use for a blog sometime next week when I launch the project.

There are some risks for trusts as you will see but I am sure that they can be managed and the upside could be a big boost to staff and public engagement with the organisation.

I will launch as a national campaign next week and it would be great to say my own organisation is considering getting involved. I have had some success in the past with national campaigns. NHS66 to mark the last anniversary of the founding of the NHS and #myNHSchristmas were both very successful and reached millions of people using social media. This one is a bit more adventurous though. All the same I now have quite a bit of influence (at least in social media) and some key contacts and I am sure if we get a few early adopters to get the ball rolling it could become quite a big national event.

Very happy to come and chat it over with you if you like.


I have to admit to being a bit sneaky and also emailing our heads of estates, communications and operations to give them a “heads up” at the same time as well as canvassing the head of nursing, medical director and chairman. No point being reticent with this sort of thing.

I am pleased to say the CEO liked the idea and, as I suspected he would, he passed it over to estates, communications and operations for their consideration. I kept up my background canvassing, found out who was looking at the idea in each department and muscled in to the relevant meetings. I sent a lot of emails and talked to a lot of people.

I think the process was aided by emails to the CEO from members of the public who had heard of the project.

The first response from everyone on the ground and managers not directly involved was “What a brilliant idea”. The first response (understandably) from the people who would eventually have to be responsible for bits of this was more cautious. There was immediate recognition of the potential problems but to their credit a willingness to consider how we may get round them.

So it took a bit of work but we now have agreement to go ahead with organising the “Hug” on our Solihull site. Solihull was chosen as the best option for a whole range of logistical reasons.

The provisional plan

The first planning meeting will happen next week so there is nothing set in stone yet but I can give you the bare bone of what we propose. Representatives from estates, facilities, operations, staff engagement, fundraising and communications have been identified to take part in planning.

  • A circuit around Solihull Hospital has been identified. It is 850 meters long and we estimate that 1000 people will be needed to encircle the hospital completely.
  • This circuit will be divided into equal 50 sections of 17 meters. These will be marked out on the morning of the hug.
  • Communications and fundraising will advertise the event. They will go to local businesses, the wider health community, the council, emergency services and patient groups as well as our own hospital departments and “offer” parts of the ring to them. We will allocate all 50 sections of the ring well in advance of the hug. We may also offer parts of the ring to individuals if we do not have enough take up from organisations and hospital departments.
  • Groups or individuals who take on part of the ring MUST COMMIT to turn up on the day with a team of minimum 20 to maximum 30 individuals to populate their section. They can wear uniforms, T shirts with their logo, fancy dress – anything goes. The more striking the better.
  • On the day we will have a marshaling area in a car park with stations numbered 1 to 50.
  • The teams of people assemble at their stations at 1.00. We check we have enough people to complete the ring and reallocate if some groups are short or missing. There is plenty extra with 1000 people for 850 m if some do not turn up.
  • The teams are deployed to their marked section of the ring at 1.30.
  • We join hands at 2.00. The ring is confirmed by a Mexican wave kicked off by a celebrity. There are suitable opportunities for press and television then we all go home.

Clearly there will be opportunities for fundraising though we do not want to put people off by insisting on this.

So what could go wrong? – There are of course lots of things to consider from parking and toilets to preserving emergency access – but on our site all looks fairly straight forward.

I hope our story has persuaded you to give this further consideration in your organisation. It will be good when we do it in Solihull but it could be great if lots of hospitals do it at the same time.

Experience tells me that each hospital will need an enthusiast among its senior team to push to get this off the ground. Are you such a person? Do you know such a person?

I am happy to advise anyone who is still undecided. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch using my trust email.

Please let me know if you are considering taking part and I will add you to the list.

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