Meet the Manager Interview – Woodlands – David Williams

Meet the Manager Interview – Woodlands – David Williams


Our new Service Director at Woodlands in York, David Williams, tells us where his passion for complex care comes from, about his new team, and his vision for the service as he prepares to take on this new role, having undertaken similar roles with other providers and when previously supporting other Active Care Group services.

Woodlands is our 27-bed neurological rehabilitation service for adults in Yorkshire. The team there delivers high-quality and intensive neurological rehabilitation; physical, cognitive, functional, and vocational assessments, behavioural management and complex disability assessments for adults.

Can you tell us a bit about your career background and experience?

My background is as a mental health nurse. I originally got interested in mental health nursing after undertaking a bank support worker role. At the time I was at a bit of a loose end, and didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I ended up working in a mental health hospital as a bank support worker, more as an interim, but just found that I really, really enjoyed it. I found real meaning in working with people with mental illness and found that it didn’t feel like work. I enjoyed what I was doing and that led me on to undertake training to become a qualified nurse. I qualified in 1999, which is showing my age a little bit.

Following qualification, I’ve worked as a staff nurse, senior staff nurse, ward manager, clinical services manager and been a hospital director for quite large hospitals of up to 110 beds. I’ve worked in low, secure, medium secure, psychiatric intensive care units, children and adolescent mental health services, neuropsychiatric services, supported living services and residential. I’ve done a bit of everything!

Along the way, I’ve also been lucky to continually develop and undertaken basic life support instructor, first aid instructor, conflict resolution and management of violence and aggression instructor roles. I’ve always taken a very keen interest in reducing restrictive practices and supporting effective management of challenging behaviour in the best way possible, because a lot of challenging behaviour is communication, by understanding communication needs better and training staff well, we’re able to work with people effectively to hopefully help them understand their own behaviours and find alternative coping strategies which enable them to be discharged back to more independent living.

That’s a good overview of your career so far, but could you tell us a bit about the roles you’ve done so far with Active Care Group (ACG)?

Yes, I joined ACG about two years ago as a peripatetic service director. The reason I decided to undertake this role was because it was an interesting position. It enabled me to basically be put into any service within ACG to support them and take my knowledge and skills that I’ve learned over the years to be able to support teams that were struggling or found themselves without a manager. Supporting teams to deliver better services and helping them to get the traction they wanted into delivering better care is certainly a passion for me.

I’ve worked at Nottingham for about four months before Os (Osvaldo Soetsane, Service Director, Nottingham Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre) took over, and he’s really continued to drive forwards excellent work in Nottingham. They’re a neurological rehabilitation service and I enjoyed my time there, which is probably why I’m now moving to Woodlands service in York. From there I went to our supported living service in Croydon, Woodland Court.

They look after people with a wide range of conditions including neurological conditions as well as mental health conditions. And then since January this year, I’ve been working at King’s Norton Hospital, which is mental health acute inpatient setting for male and female patients with three wards in Birmingham.

As you’re new to Woodlands, what are you most looking forward to in your role?

I’m very excited about the new role. I’ve always liked new challenges and enjoyed working in new settings. Previously I opened a 20-bed female neuropsychiatric hospital in Middlesbrough during lockdown. We achieved a ’Good’ CQC rating at first inspection which was really positive and it was obviously a very difficult time to open during lockdowns. As I’m sure you can appreciate building works and recruitment was a little bit tougher during this period.

While at Nottingham, we developed a model and worked on developing that model offering high intensity rehabilitation, more active rehab and nurse-led services as well. I’m really keen to see how we can develop models and pathways when I go to Woodlands. Woodlands is a very well-developed service, and they clearly get really good clinical outcomes. It will be excellent to be working alongside such a capable clinical team.

Working on the models that have been developed previously and combining this with a competent team, we should be able to communicate clearly to the market, so commissioners and referrers can clearly understand what Woodlands can do and where we fit in within the other neurological services within ACG, so that we’ve got pathways for people’s recovery and care that are suitable to help them make the optimum recovery they can and hopefully return successfully back to home and community settings.

Where does your passion for what you do come from?

It’s the nature vs nurture argument, I suppose, in that from my perspective, you should always love the job you do. If you don’t love your job, you should find a job you love. It’s really important because every day you come into work, you spend a lot of time at work and you should find something that you enjoy doing. I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by mental health and absolutely privileged to have been able to look after people and hopefully make a difference for them. I think to be able to make a difference for people’s lives is hugely rewarding.

There’s nothing quite like helping somebody who’s got some form of mental health or neurological difficulty and being able to help unlock their potential to recover. I also really enjoy working with teams, so getting teams to celebrate when they get it right, but also helping them to learn when they don’t, helping them to develop because I believe team development is a journey of progression.

An example is a story, from the neuro-psychiatric service that I previously worked in, we cared for a lady who came to us in a very, very challenging, extremely aggressive, very difficult to manage. She ended up needing to be held quite often because of that challenging behaviour that she had, as she was a risk to herself and other people at the time. We worked very closely and intensively with her. We were there to do a lot of education around how to help her support and manage her own condition herself. The team used all their expertise to support her, and she ended up being discharged from us hugely improved.

 Before she was discharged, she had a job working on our reception. She was managing her own agitation and had reduced aggression and assaults. She was able to enjoy mealtimes and going to the shops. Later we found out she had progressed further and was discharged home. I will always remember the time we took as a team to support her as it was a really difficult time for her. There was a particular point I remember when she came out and shouted aggressively at the nursing team, then went back into her bedroom, she then came out two minutes later after she had self-soothed using some of the techniques we’d taught her. She said, “I’m sorry for that”. And it was just a wonderful moment, to know She had used some of the stuff we had taught her, and she was really happy she could communicate this back to us, and managed that herself. These are the moments where you think, “that’s why we do it”.

Can you give us an overview of the services that are provided at Woodlands?

Woodlands service provides active rehabilitation for neurological conditions.

“We focus on improving our patients’ functional ability and their independence, in all areas they would like to work on. We have full range of clinical therapists on site to support people in their individual recovery journey.

What are the team like at Woodlands?

I think they’re an amazing team, really highly skilled professional staff and I’m really looking forward to working with them all. I think having a new manager can sometimes be a bit worrying for people, about where the future lies. Part of my role is to help services to understand what that is. We’ve had some staff meetings already and discussed where we are going to go and develop the service in delivering excellent care for people with neurological needs.

We just need to be proud of that we’re doing and what we are very good at. Also ask for help and support from the wider group knowledge to increase quality and training to be able to improve what we are doing. You know, I believe we all have room to develop, is any service truly outstanding or is there always room to improve? There is always room to innovate and develop, to add to the overall body of knowledge. You know, if you think about healthcare today compared to 20 years ago, it’s completely different. You know the technology, the advancements in medicines, the advancements in treatments are just all further on.

And that’s because people have never sat still and never thought “we’ve made it. We’ve done it”. They’ve always thought, “actually can we do a bit more with that or is there another way of doing this? Can we tackle this from a different angle? Do we need a bit more technology? Do we need something else?”. This is a fundamental human characteristic, isn’t it? Hopefully we are all always looking for some improvement in healthcare. I also think learning and making mistakes is part of understanding and learning so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

What is your vision for the service and where would you like it to be in the next few years?

I think a lot of the vision is already there. I think overall the active rehabilitation service is very good, but we do need to develop the model and pathways further as we have other aspects of the service such as respite, nurse led care and community discharge aspects that need exploring and understanding better. I think they’re getting excellent outcomes. I think that’s something we just need to just kind of solidify, keep strong, keep doing what we’re doing. I think in the future, do we lend ourselves to two services? I think if you think about the Woodlands building, we could have an east wing and a west wing. And I think that there’s a potential for us to kind of develop that further and maybe have two parts to that pathway. I’m not fully sure what they are yet. We have done some of that modelling before in the past from Nottingham, but I would want to make sure the team were very involved in any future developments.

The discharge element I actually think is extremely good and it’s excellent that we support that aspect so thoroughly as it helps people to be discharged back to community quickly. How are all aspects of the work commissioned though? I suppose so that we can sustain that gold quality standard and to make sure that that community provision is continued and hopefully developed. It is part of the pathway that I think is essential in ensuring is there for everyone.

How do you feel about moving to York? What are you looking most looking forward about being in Yorkshire and what would you enjoy doing in your spare time away from ACG?

Well, I’m actually from the northeast anyway, I’ve lived in Darlington a lot of my life and now live just outside of Darlington. I also worked in South Yorkshire before for about 10 years in a service in Doncaster. So, I’m looking forward to being back in Yorkshire. I’ve also got friends and people I know in York, so it’ll be nice to be able to call in and see people. I think one of the things I’m looking forward to is being based at home and sleeping in my own bed most nights, because while I have been a peripatetic service director, I’ve been spending a lot of time away from home.

In terms of hobbies, I like to climb up mountains. I’m on my second round of the Wainwrights. The Lake District has 214 hills called the Wainwrights. I’ve done them all once and I’m now on to me second round and about 160 climbs in on my second round.

I also play a bit of bass guitar and have been in bands over the years. Absolutely love music and stuff like that. Anything I’m passionate about I like to do well, if I’m honest.