We don’t want a prima donna to head the hospitals trust

On January 15th interviews will be held for the post of Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.

The Trust is now looking for its seventh Chief Executive (including acting CEs) in eight years: interviewing panels for this post evidently do not have a great track record!

Who will be on this year’s interviewing panel? One member will obviously be the Acting Chair of the Trust; another will certainly be from NHS Improvement, the regulating body for NHS trusts. A third is likely to be a Chair or Chief Executive from another Trust. In these jobs not one of them is likely to be having daily contact with wards or clinics, of course.

What sort of person will these high-ups be looking for? In the past the emphasis has been on delivering the Trust’s strategic plan and gaining Foundation Trust status. When in 2015 Kathy Byrne was parachuted in from Australia, it was to play a ‘system leadership’ role. In the current job description the Acting Chair of the Trust writes that they are seeking a ‘strong and charismatic’ Chief Executive: a ‘brilliant’ leader who can provide ‘outstanding and inspirational leadership’ is required.

All this seems a world away from reality. The reality is that the Trust is an organization with deep-seated problems. The 2017 Staff Survey asked staff whether they thought the Trust’s procedures for reporting near misses, errors and incidents were ‘fair and effective’, and whether they felt ‘confidence and security’ when reporting unsafe clinical practice: on both counts the Trust came in the bottom 20 per cent in their category of trusts. And more workers than in comparable trusts said they had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from other staff.

There’s more: a recent study of events leading up to the tragic death of six-year-old Coco Bradford in 2017 exposed a shambles in the organization for which no-one has been brought to account.

One thing is crystal clear. What the Trust does not need at its head is a prima donna, a chief executive whose charisma and brilliance will inevitably attract a coterie of self-promoting sycophants. It needs someone who can manage the organization without bullying or harassing people, who listens to staff and patients rather than just giving orders, who can weld the organization into a team, in which communications run bottom-up as well as top-down. In a nutshell, we need someone who can give genuine meaning to the Trust’s motto: ‘one and all, we care’.