Emer’s remit is as broad as it is deep, incorporating responsibility for quality, health and safety and environment. Given the type of work we actually do, these areas stretch into every facet of the organisation and are all, literally, vital.
“While each discipline is important, there’s quite a bit of overlap with each other, so it made sense to centralise the management of all of them,” she says, “in reality it means I deal with just about everybody and everything.”
The scale and sheer diversity of the Group’s operations means maintaining quality is a daily challenge with much of the quality agenda being driven by accreditation and regulatory requirements. The rapid pace of change across pathology and diagnostics means that the only constant is change.
It’s important to be on top of all new and amended regulation. But in response to customer needs, the Group is frequently leading new techniques and technologies, all of which have to be tested, validated and accredited. Accordingly, working with quality managers and UKAS takes up the majority of Emer’s time.
Maintaining high standards and keeping people healthy
Emer says her ambition is to embed quality into everyone’s everyday work. But how does she define quality?
“The word has many different definitions – for me it has to be right patient, right test, right result, right time. We have to keep reminding ourselves that what we do is all about a patient and so that, even when things get stressful, we always do things in the right way.”
“Health and safety is all about our people and our responsibility to our staff” she says, “if you’ve got good quality systems, they’re generally safe. Yes, safety means developing lots of processes, risk analyses, operational procedures and training – but now we have a keen focus on the health part. For example, we have now appointed mental health champions across the group.”
Of course things can, and do go wrong – we’re all human – so we have to ensure there are systems and procedures in place which pick up issues in good time, and that we’re prepared and identify areas for continuous improvement. Safety is all about knowing that people are going to do what they should do – even when no one is looking and that they understand why they’re doing it and why it’s keeping them safe.”
Looking after the environment
The third element of Emer’s remit is environment. “It’s a growing area,” she says” “we have ISO accreditation for an environmental management system for some of our sites. We’re audited annually and that forces us to consider our environmental responsibilities, not just in terms of the volume of hazardous waste we generate, but in a wider context. Take our buildings for example, we’ve considered everything from creating an insect highway to installing LED lighting and working with suppliers to reduce packaging waste. Environment touches everything and it’s the way all businesses need to go.”
Emer is quick to add that she works with a great team of around 40 people, many with specific expertise but what is her vision as a leader?
“I’ve been keen to create a great health and safety team, to try to change the image of health and safety from a necessary evil. I want to make sure everyone understands why the H&S team is there and how they can help and support. The approach has worked well and we’ve built trusting relationships between safety advisors and staff. We are taking a similar approach with the Quality team. Specifically, we’re looking at the role of quality managers to help instil the quality culture throughout the organisation.”
Unsurprisingly, as the Group grows, communicating effectively to every member of a team becomes more challenging. One initiative Emer has introduced is a health and safety forum which will convene later in the year. “It’ll be an internal safety day which gives people an opportunity to meet and get to know each other. Taking advantage of being a really big network, it’ll also be an opportunity to identify best practice, celebrate the good and continue raising standards. The next step will be to plan something similar for the Quality team.”
Leading on such crucial areas of the business is hugely responsible but Emer says she loves every aspect of her job – the healthcare, the science and the pathology. The secret perhaps to a good night’s sleep.