Simon Stevens has announced he is leaving his post as the boss of the NHS. Sir Simon is to become Lord Simon. Lord-knows what’s next for him. I doubt the red-benches will be enough.
The era is Steven’s era. He’s eclipsed all the politicians that have been in orbit around his sun. Changed the trajectory of the Treasury and dragged the NHS back, from the black-hole of the Lansley Lunacy.
Somehow, persuaded the Conservatives to admit; Cameron should never have let it happen and they would have to fix their mess.
He stuck out for more funding, reorganised the NHS, without as much as a line of new law, lead the battle with Covid and was planning the vaccine response, long before the first vial of vaccine was brewed.
There’s no one in Whitehall, nor Westminister that comes near him for knowledge, experience, ability, diplomacy nor command.
If he’d taken up another profession he’d have been at GCHQ. If he was working elsewhere he’d have been a mapmaker. In the armed services, he’d have commanded a tank unit. In another time he might have run the UN.
In the history of the NHS there is no one that comes near to his achievements. No one, given the environment within which the NHS has toiled; austerity and political turmoil, a dithering No10, a dysfunctional chairman and an invisible board, that could have come close to knocking on the door.
Here’s the man who runs the biggest organisation in the country, the most admired health system in the world, who can be found on the 148 bus, from his office in the Elephant and Castle to Westminister. You don’t need to know anything more about him.
When the history of the NHS is written, the last seven years will be the Steven’s Era. Yet…
… we’re haunted with the question; what would he have achieved if Covid hadn’t got in the way.
More money? Stevens has etched into Whitehall; to run the NHS properly, you have to fund it properly. That legacy is his successors to lose and Number 18 to screw up.
Workforce. It’s a mess. Forced into neglect by austerity, run at arms length… criminally badly, parked by politicians. The blueprint, to try and unscramble it, is, in part, mapped out in Steven’s Rebuilding Bill, about to start its journey through Parliament.
The successor’s role is to nail-it-in, create a rebirth of the People Plan, put front-line people, front-and-centre and persuade the people, they mean it.
A Covid bonus, if such a thing may be described, is the huge support from the public for the NHS and the avalanche of interest there’s been, in working in the NHS.
That harvest is for Steven’s successor to fritter away or build-on, ensuring the workforce for the next ten-years. They must be quick, before the enthusiasm evaporates.
Waiting lists. Work has started to reduce them. It’ll the be the total focus for Number10, with an eye on the next general election.
The solution; not cheap, regional not national, requires innovation, communication with the people waiting, like never before and the kind of effort in shifting the fulcrum point of care, that saw us through Covid.
The safe passage of the Repair Bill looks like it’s up to No18. With Stevens in the Lords it’s hard to imagine it won’t become law.
Its effect, deliberately, leaves a huge amount of place-organisation in the hands of the people, on the ground. It is an opportunity not to be wasted, frittered away in rows or succumb to creeping bureaucratisation.
Stevens was not flamboyant but as effective as a scalpel. Illuminating, like a shaft of sunlight on a winter’s afternoon. A light touch and a poleaxing grip. Thorough, reliable and the ability to see round corners.
It’s called super-competent and it’s rare.
Stevens is not a tough act to follow, he is impossible to follow.
Whilst the rest of nation is wondering who paid for Bojo’s wallpaper, the NHS is wondering who is to be their next boss.
The best we can hope for; it will be someone the NHS wants to follow. The smart thing to do would be to ask them.
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