Times are tough for NHS trusts so there is no better time to celebrate the best NHS trust chief executives

It is a tough time to be a provider trust chief executive in the English NHS. Recent HSJ research shows just how tough: as we revealed last September, more than a third of chief executives have been in post for less than a year. The pressure is high and it is relentless.

There is perhaps no better time, then, to present our first celebration of those doing an exceptional job of steering these organisations. It is a mission which surely at times appears thankless – political sensitivities abound, as does the pressing target to deliver outstanding care at reduced cost.

Some will argue these individuals are well compensated for such a task. This is true. Let us be clear, however: they are nowhere near as well compensated as those heading up similar sized organisations in the private sector, where the dangers to organisational reputation and career prospects are usually much fewer.

‘The judges’ litmus test was not mortality rates or bottom lines but the percentage of staff who would be happy for a friend or family member to be treated at their organisation’

We brought together a heavyweight judging panel to decide on England’s top 50 chief executives. What quickly became clear is no one size fits all: different skills are required to succeed in different organisations at different times. Our judges were also keen to stress that you can be a good chief executive in a trust with serious financial and/or quality problems.

It was notable that what judges focused on in their deliberations was not mortality rates or financial bottom lines; instead their litmus test was one particular question in the staff survey: the percentage of staff who would be happy for a friend or family member to be treated at the organisation at which they work.

The chief executives in this supplement are a collection of individuals – some high profile, some not; some very experienced, some less so; some in smaller trusts, some in the biggest. What they are united by is impressive performance at a trying time.

HSJ Top Chief Executives 2014