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NHS gets fixed up

12th January 2007

13122006_ped_congenital_heart_surgery.jpgCan Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? asked the BBC in its three-part series.

Brooking no opposition that the NHS needed fixing, the programme followed successful businessman Sir Gerry Robinson as he took on the challenge.

His patient was Rotherham General, a top-rated hospital according to its annual review. But chief executive Brian James wanted better: a hospital with no waiting times.

Sir Gerry arrived for a six-month stint to see if his substantial commercial experience as head of many leading UK companies could provide the answer.

He found shortages in facilities and lack of funding weren't the problem. Instead poor management meant neither were being properly used. And while talking about problems and discussing solutions was endemic, actually instigating the change was often missing.

Crucial to all of this was a lack of a normal management structure and clashes between managers and their plans and the ‘power wielding’ consultants and their established working practices.

While ideas for change often came thick and fast, few had any evidence base that they would actually work and many looked for a magic solution, instead of basic measures.

The problems were simple, he said, but were difficult to achieve because it had to happen at the grassroots and managers needed to get out and about, inspiring and communicating with front line staff.

Sir Gerry was endlessly frustrated by a culture where even the simplest change took months to achieve, when he felt it should have taken days.

In the end he had slashed waiting lists in two areas, increased efficiency in operating theatres and Sir Gerry had high hopes that this success would inspire other areas of the hospital.

He said: ‘If there is a lesson we must learn from this experience, it is that we must stop thinking about the NHS as some kind of unmanageable monster and get back to realising it's an extremely precious thing that just needs managing in a day-to-day way.’

His legacy, said chief executive Brian James, would be his efforts to cut through unnecessary delays to implementing simple changes that can have a big impact.

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