In The Spotlight - Rick Stern, Chief Executive of the NHS Alliance



Rick SternFor our debut ‘In The Spotlight’ interview, we’ve been talking to Rick Stern, Chief Executive of the NHS Alliance and Director of the Primary Care Foundation. We discuss his current roles and what he’d like to see from the NHS in the next 5 years.

Have you always worked in the Healthcare industry? Was that your intention from a young age?

I am not a doctor so my path was not set out after university. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after I graduated - I happened to share a flat with a psychologist who suggested I should work as a Nursing Assistant at the Maudsley in London and I quickly became fascinated by how good teams can do great things even in the most difficult of circumstances. I learned a lot from the direct contact with very vulnerable clients before moving into management roles.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Well, it varies a lot – Today I’ve walked a whole 20 steps from bedroom to office. Working for the Alliance allows a lot of freedom. I can do virtually everything from home. I keep up with my colleagues via e-mail and meetings across the UK. I tend to spend a lot of my time in Central London. Today, for example, I am going into London this morning and travelling up to meet colleagues in Blackpool this afternoon. There is no centralised office for the Alliance. I love the flexibility of being able to work from home, out on meetings or even from abroad.

Who has most influenced your career and why?

It’s hard to choose just one person. Lots of people have influenced me throughout my career, especially those who would lead and inspire while retaining a personal touch. If I had to choose two, I would say Barbara Stillwell and Ray Rowden.

I worked with Barbara in Lambeth when I was with Access to Health (a project to improve access to health care for the homeless people). She was someone who would have succeeded at whatever she had done and who defined and developed the role of nurse practitioners in the UK in the last thirty years. Everyone felt important and listened to by Barbara - I learned so much from her about what offering unconditional regard for people really means.

Ray Rowden was an inspirational chief executive who constantly challenged the culture of psychiatric care as it moved from the old asylums to community care. He once broke into his own hospital at night to check on what was really happening on the wards. Everyone understood that poor care wouldn't be tolerated but he was someone that anyone - staff and patients - could approach and talk about the things that mattered to them.

I have read that you are also a psychodynamic counsellor? How did you get into that?

I was always jealous of colleagues with a clinical background who could see patients as well as taking on management roles. When I decided to give up running a PCT after six years of leading the organisation I became a student again, retraining as a psychodynamic counsellor. I can now combine national work with seeing clients - I still practice part-time seeing clients for half a day a week. I feel it informs the way that I work and helps me understand patient care at another level.

What is your biggest challenge working for the NHS Alliance?

The biggest challenge is finding the most effective use of my time. What we do can have a big impact and it’s hard not to get ahead of ourselves and try too many things at once. We rely on the energy and enthusiasm of the people working in the NHS, so a lot of my job is encouraging people to develop ideas and projects that they care passionately about and that will improve care for all of us as patients.

What are you working on at the moment?

Recently we have worked closely with a number of bids for the Prime Ministers challenge fund to look at how they can transform primary care.  We are also looking at how housing and health might work better together. We want to make sure that unused NHS land is used much more effectively.

Where would you like to see the NHS in 5 years?

I’d like to see the NHS become more personal and responsive. Some health professionals are fabulous at what they do and provide an equal partnership and quality of care that is unmatched but ideally we’d like this to be the case all over the UK. General practice faces lots of challenges, not least stretched resources, but there is a lot that can be done to make the whole extended primary care team work better together, supported by the local community.

What is the most important thing for General Practice?

General practice shouldn’t just be about ticking boxes. We need to focus on continuity of care and improving the service, not just meeting targets on paper. We are also helping members to get more involved in capturing patient feedback so that quality can be measured, supported and improved.

And finally…What are your hobbies outside of work ?

I love walking with my dog up on the South Downs - it’s a great way to take a break and unwind. It’s another perk of working from home, I can fit it around other things that I am doing.

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