The COVID-19 response of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board was imbued with a spirit of collaboration and collective leadership, the willingness to adapt and innovate with radical solutions, and the dedication of staff to go above and beyond.

It was present everywhere in the system at all level and it is clear from the COVID-19 response, that many of the best ideas about how the future of healthcare should look, how services can be made even better and continue to be delivered sustainably for benefit of future generations come from those on the front line.

Reflecting on what it had learnt as a system during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Board identified a critical need to capture this momentum and the willingness to innovate that the pandemic had ignited.

One of the key achievements of the early days of the pandemic was the planning and construction of the Dragon’s Heart Hospital in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The temporary facility was the largest surge hospital in Wales and the second largest in the UK. The hospital took just five days to design and the first 300 beds were ready to accept patients within the first 12 days with a further 1,200 beds made ready in 39 days.

As we look forward to a future after COVID-19, it is this spirit of the Dragon’s Heart that was present at all levels across the system – this spirit of radical ideas, collaboration, and collective leadership – that will allow the healthcare system to address all of the enduring problems which it faces with the same tenacity. In order to capture and distil this spirit into something tangible, the Health Board has formed the Dragon’s Heart Institute.

The Dragon’s Heart Institute will drive transformation within the Health Board, it will spearhead innovation and act as a catalyst for change across public services to improve the outcomes for citizens in Cardiff and the Vale, Wales and beyond.

The Dragon’s Heart Institute will provide support and infrastructure to staff, investing in them and making it easier for them to drive change, allowing them to develop their leadership skills, collaborate effectively with one another across traditional organisational boundaries, and connect with partners in other health organisations, industry and academia from Wales and around the world.

Already, the Dragon’s Heart Institute has established a learning partnership with the King’s Fund in order to widely publicise the most valuable lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will contribute to the delivery of Cardiff and Vale UHB’s future Spread and Scale Academies and the All-Wales Academy for Innovation in Health & Social Care, which was recently announced.

Dr. Jonathon Gray, Director of Improvement and Innovation at Cardiff and Vale UHB, said, “I am incredibly excited about the launch of the Dragon’s Heart Institute. We have taken all we have learnt from the COVID-19 response, all the amazing things that our staff have done, and used that energy and momentum to take the first step into future of healthcare in Wales. The Dragon’s Heart Institute is that step. We know that we cannot turn back and return to how things were done before the pandemic. Instead, we will invest in our people, invest in innovation and not stop until we have reached the peak of our potential, delivering the very best for the people we serve.”

Len Richards, Chief Executive of Cardiff and Vale UHB, said, “I have always advocated that staff on the front line have the permission to be bold in their practice and make the changes necessary to deliver the best outcomes for patients. However, we know that those with the big ideas do not always know where to turn to get the support they need to enact them effectively. The Dragon’s Heart Institute will be the key to unlocking ideas, skills and specialist knowledge of our staff, helping us to achieve the goals in our ten-year strategy, Shaping our Future Wellbeing, and beyond.”

Rachel Gidman, Interim Executive Director of Workforce and Organisation Development, said, “The Health Board has been on a long journey to get to this point. Beginning with our 10-year strategy and learning alliance with New Zealand’s Canterbury District Health Board and our Amplify 2025 programme, for the past few years we have strived to change our culture, giving our staff the permission to be bold and make the changes they deem necessary to make the care they give the best that it can be. The Dragon’s Heart Institute is the natural next step in this journey. It will be inclusive to all who need it and, with it, we will be able to properly support the people in our system who want to make meaningful change by giving them the leadership skills, the knowledge and the courage to do so.”

Catherine Wood, Director of Operations for Specialist Clinical Board, said, “Our response to COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief something that we have always known: our strength is in our people. Our teams have displayed many characteristics akin to a dragon in how they have responded to the pandemic: strong, proud, resolute, and fearless in making transformative decisions at pace to support the needs of our population at this time. It’s our job as leaders to develop and enable this passion from our teams to make our frontline services the best they can be. The Dragon’s Heart Institute is an incredible development that draws from learning across many sectors to support the NHS of the future.  Many of my team and I are incredibly excited about the opportunities the Institute will bring to transform care, and cannot wait to get started with the support of the wealth of skills and expertise it will have to draw on in support. The dragon has been awakened!”

Dr Fiona Brenan, Consultant Anaesthetist at Cardiff and Vale UHB, said, “One of the biggest challenges we collectively face is the climate crisis. Alongside a number of colleagues I have been making changes to the Health Board, including changing the anaesthetic gases we use, to try and reduce out impact on the environment. Although it is in its early stages, I am really excited to work with the Dragon’s Heart Institute to raise the profile of our work, innovate in new ways with new partners, and spread our learning across the whole system so we can begin to see wide-scale, meaningful change.”

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