My flexi placement at DHSC

Posted by: Alexandra Starks - Posted on:

Since the last time I wrote a GMTS blog, I’ve started – and finished! – my flexi placement.

For my flexi, I spent eight weeks in the Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries Unit (MCPE) at the Department of Health and Social Care.

I had some other options lined up, but due partially to logistics and partially to my desire to see health policy in action, even if second-hand, I accepted DHSC’s offer and went off to MPCE.

I’m so glad I made the decision I did.

During my flexi I did exactly no work related to informatics. I did work that was only tangentially related to policy. I didn’t necessarily learn all of the things that I thought I’d learn going in, but I learnt so much more than I expected. Perhaps more importantly, I know that the work I did will continue to have an impact on the Department long after I’ve gone.

In my eight weeks in Westminster, I rewrote the complaints handling process for the entire Department of Health, including guidance that’s been published on gov.uk and internal documents that any employee handling a complaint will use. In the process, I learned a lot about how to balance the concerns of the public with the logistics of complaints handling and the extensive best practice laid out by the PHSO.

I conducted internal reviews on the handling of FOI requests, which put me into debates and working groups with policy teams, government legal teams, and other government departments – even Number 10! I learned the legal obligations of public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act backwards and forwards, and then had to apply that knowledge in drafting decision letters to members of the public and departmental statements for the Information Commissioner.

When I wasn’t conducting internal reviews or working on complaints handling, I also worked with correspondence teams across government and DHSC agencies to benchmark call centre services as part of a rescoping exercise, and helped to streamline the way in which ministerial correspondence is keyworded and organised.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how much I managed to do in eight weeks. I’ve been back to DHSC twice to catch up with members of my team there. They’ve expressed gratitude for the work that I’ve done, but I feel immensely grateful for having been able to do it, and do it for a team who were as kind, hardworking, and caring as MCPE.

If you’d asked me what I thought I’d be doing for my flexi when I started on the scheme in the autumn, or later in winter when I started looking at flexi options, or even in spring before I’d narrowed down my choices, I probably never would have said working with ministerial correspondence. It’s a team that I didn’t even know existed until about five months before I started there. But because it came so out of the blue, I learnt so much more that I might have in a more familiar setting. So when it comes time for flexi, go outside your comfort zone – you never know what it might teach you!     

Alexandra Starks

Hi, I'm Alexandra. I joined the Scheme in 2017, specialising in Health Informatics in London. Prior to joining the NHS, I did an BA in International Studies in the US—I'm Texan by birth!—spent time working in refugee resettlement, and then relocated to the UK to do an MSc in Global Health & Public Policy at Edinburgh University. As a non-Brit, I can thoroughly appreciate the value of the NHS, and hope to be able to contribute to it's future success!

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