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Women leaders in healthcare: Dame Jackie Daniel


By Léa Legraien
Reporter
19 October 2018

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Dame Jackie Daniel is the chief executive of Newcastle-upon-Tyne NHS Foundation Trust.

She is also former chief executive of the Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and has more than 15 years of experience in leadership roles.

Dame Jackie talks to Léa Legraien about her role, challenges and commitment to her patients and staff.  

Q What motivated you to become a chief executive? 

It goes back to the days when I was a ward sister [a registered nurse leading the team]. I quickly realised that leadership was really important. As a ward sister, I could influence the care and experiences of the patients and their families.

I began to appreciate how healthcare organisations work. I sought a position to be able to improve quality and worked through the ranks.

As a chief executive, you set the tone with the rest of the board and the chairman. You’re very important in setting the standards for the whole of the organisation.

Q What is the key to your success?

Constant learning. [There have been] many times in my career when I’ve been out of my comfort zone and that’s the point you’re learning the most.

Asking for what you need when you need it and having mentors and coaches.

Also, operating with a bit of humility and recognising that you’re not always going to get it right. The most important thing is to learn when you make a mistake.

Q What are your biggest achievements?

One of my biggest achievements has been taking Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust out of special measures [which it was placed in by the CQC in 2014] to being rated by the CQC as good [overall] and outstanding for caring [in 2017].

That took a lot of work, not only with the staff and the partners we worked with but also the patients and their families.

Q What is the most valuable lesson have you learnt in your career?

Being humble and listening carefully to what others say. As a chief executive, you’re influential but you’re only as good as the people who support you.

Q What challenges have you faced along the way?

I’ve been a chief executive for about 16 years and I’ve worked in health for 38 so I’ve faced every challenge, from financial to strategic. I’ve faced quality problems and staffing issues around culture.

I also put myself in challenging situations. There’s no doubt about it, it’s pretty tough being a woman leader in any industry including the NHS. I’ve chosen to be there because that’s what drives and motivates me.

Q What makes you happy at work?

The people I work with, staff and patients. When I was a nurse, I used to immediately see the impact I was having. If you make somebody comfortable or release their pain you feel great about what you’re doing.

As a chief executive, it’s a little bit more of a delayed reaction and you see changes overtime.

One of the best things is seeing my staff feeling happy and valued and what they can do for our patients. That’s what makes me get out of bed in the morning.

Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?

Good leaders need to have a vision to inspire their staff and create a following. It’s no good going in any particular direction if no one is following you.

A good leader appreciates differences. It’s important to encourage diversity and if you can get the best of different opinions then you create better solutions.

A good quality is to lead with compassion and it definitely motivates people when you do that as it promotes a culture of learning. It’s important in healthcare because then people feel safe to raise concerns.

Q How can we help more women step into leadership roles in the NHS?

There are some good development programmes for women at the NHS Leadership Academy and NHS Improvement is doing some good work to help and support women.

Coaching and mentoring really help; talking about all of this is necessary.

At the moment, when I look at the leadership in the NHS, I’m often reminded that it’s exclusively men at the very top of the organisation. We have to try and understand why that is the case and need to talk about the fact that women leaders aren’t represented across the NHS.

Women definitely have the skills. It’s a lot about confidence and supporting women to work flexibly because they’ve often got all the demands in their lives such as children.

Over the decades, I’ve seen moments when the policy makers and leaders focused on promoting women in healthcare. Although things have changed and there has been improvement, it’s not been consistent. There is still a long way to go.

Q What challenges is the NHS currently faced with?

When you look at the 70 years it’s been in existence, the NHS has changed immeasurably.

Across my career, I’ve seen how far we’ve come in terms of new treatment and the way hospitals and community services run.

Mental health wasn’t something we talked about 38 years ago and we used to institutionalise people with mental health illnesses.

It has changed but because of the challenges we face, with people living longer as a result of the NHS changing, we’re now facing new challenges.

How can we support people to live well and longer? How can we deal with the financial challenges? Integration and collaboration are really important as well as [making sure that] hospitals don’t remain islands.

We’ve got to join hands with general practice, community care, social care, mental health and the voluntary sector and think differently about how we provide care in the future.

We’ve got to make sure the NHS is in better shape in the next 70 years. The future generations are going to depend on that.

Q As the chief executive of one of the largest trusts in the UK, how do you lead the way?

While we focus on the very edge of technology and innovation, we’re leading some of the most impressive programmes around genomics and how we’re going to predict and prevent diseases in the future.

We’re leading in cancer treatment nationally and in robotic surgery. Now, when you go into an operating theatre there isn’t an anaesthetist or a surgeon but a robot. It’s breathtaking [to see] how technology is changing.

We have to work with our research partners and universities to develop cutting-edge solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s health problems. But we also have to work with other organisations, including providers and hospitals, and act as an anchor organisation to support them.

We’ve got to think, work and develop services on all levels. If we just focus on one and not the other, we’re not going to get where we want to be.

Dame Jackie Daniel is the chief executive of Newcastle-upon-Tyne NHS Foundation Trust

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