The highs and lows of a Lister Hospital boss

THE chairman of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust - which runs Lister Hospital in Stevenage - retires after 10 years in post on March 31. The married father-of-two, Richard Beazley, spoke to Comet reporter Louise McEvoy about the highs and lows of his chairmanship.

LM: How did you come to take up the role as chairman?

RB: I spent my career in the American multi-national oil industry and lived and travelled all over the world, but I was born in Hertfordshire and wanted to settle back in the county.

The trust was going through a difficult period. The merger between the East Hertfordshire Trust and the North Hertfordshire Trust, which had occurred in 2000, was experiencing difficulties. My experience in the oil industry was the kind needed to sort these difficulties out. I was approached to see if I might be interested in applying for the job and was eventually appointed.

LM: What does the role of chairman involve?

RB: The key component to the role is strategic leadership. That, in essence, involves building relationships between the trust and the community; building effective leadership at board level; and working with the trust and the community to develop the trust’s vision, values and strategies.

LM: What difficulties was the trust facing when you joined?

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RB: Everybody has got to work together, and this was not happening with the merger. The community was quickly losing trust in the trust. If the community doesn’t trust you, you have got a big problem.

With a newly-appointed chief executive - Nick Carver, who started in November 2002 - we developed a policy of meeting with the community’s leaders - MPs, county and district councils, the media and others - once a quarter, and developed relationships in which they were able to trust us to be honest about where we had been successful and unsuccessful.

The second step was to build an effective leadership team - probably the most impressive executive team of any hospital trust in the country.

We worked with staff to develop a vision - simply to be trusted by the community.

There were lots of problems we had to face which were operational. The waiting list problem was very real and we had financial issues.

LM: What have been the highlights?

RB: A real highlight was getting approval to consolidate acute services at the QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City and the Lister Hospital in Stevenage on the Stevenage site [in 2007].

There have been lots of individual highlights - the opening of the cardiac facilities and maternity unit at Lister, and the opening of the breast cancer unit at the QEII, for instance.

LM: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your role?

RB: What made it so rewarding is the people I have come across and worked with - the patients, community and staff.

What has been most exciting is the steady increase in the sense of confidence the staff have. They are very professional and very good at what they do. They cope with an enormous amount of pressure in difficult situations very well.

LM: Do you have any regrets?

RB: Everyone was very disappointed when it was decided at a national level [in 2006] that a new hospital at Hatfield was not something that could be afforded.

I’m also sorry we don’t yet have full approval for the new A&E and tower block at Lister. I think it’s disappointing reconfiguration programmes take so long to be implemented in the NHS. Approval for the A&E we hope will come through in the next four weeks. Approval for the tower block probably won’t be through until summer. This will lead to full consolidation in spring 2014, with a new general hospital being built by the primary care trust on the QEII site.

LM: What’s next for you?

RB: I’m not going to spend all my time cutting the grass! There are lots of things to do - I’m vice chairman of the Florence Nightingale Foundation and vice lord lieutenant of Hertfordshire, which are both very rewarding.

* Interviews for Mr Beazley’s replacement have been held, but the new chairman is yet to be announced.

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