The New Health Network, set up to champion change by enthusing NHS staff, now has a chief executive who oozes enthusiasm and wants others to be as ecstatic.Lyn Whitfield reports

The New Health Network had the glossiest of new Labour launches last May, complete with a message of good will from prime minister Tony Blair.Since then, even its new chief executive admits it has not been terribly visible.

Margaret My then, former head of policy for the Labour Party, arrived in its Southwark office this month to find 'about a thousand ' express ions of interest in the idea - which now need taking further.

Her first job is to 'send a mailing to everybody we have ignored'.Her sister is helping to stuff the envelopes, since Ms Mythen has no administrative support. Fundraising is clearly a pressing issue.The network, which seeks to promote change management and best practice, was launched with administrative support from KPMG and financial support from three sources, only one of which - Superdrug - is still involved.

Ms Mythen says it and other 'corporate partners'have provided 'some money'- 'enough to pay the mortgage' - but she is going to be 'eating a lot of lunches'with potential backers.

This raises the question: why has she switched jobs? Ms Mythen says her previous job working on Labour's health policies was 'very exciting'.She 'really missed health' after mov ing to overall head of policy.

She did not want to stay with Labour for another general election - 'elections are exciting, but 1997 was the most exciting election there could be'- yet neither did she want to move into lobbying.

Mulling this over towards the end of last year, she was 'chatting to somebody'who mentioned the New Health Network, then in the process of deciding its administrative structure, and 'things just clicked'.

Ms Mythen is also genuinely enthusiastic about the potential of the New Health Network, which aims to drive through change by enthusing and em-powering NHS staff.This is an idea whose time seems to have come.

NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton recently called for a 'leadership academy' to develop the 'missing leaders' running hospital departments and community services who are 'uniquely placed' to achieve change on the ground.

Ms Mythen, while sceptical about something as formal as an 'academy', talks in much the same terms about encouraging 'health entrepreneurs' and 'liberating people to lead and take risks'.

Despite its New Labour credentials, and her own Labour background, Ms Mythen insists the network is 'not a government organisation'.

It would, she says, be happy to push for change under a Conservative government - as long as that change did not conflict with its aims, which include a commitment to the 'founding principles' of the NHS.

Nevertheless, Ms Mythen is enthusiastic about the direction of the present government, and feels baffled that this enthusiasm is not far more widely felt.

She says Labour 'tried to give people in the health service the policy they wanted' by removing competition and emphasising quality.But there was an 'implementation gap'- 'people were not jumping up and down in delight'.

Ms Mythen feels this was because staff who supported the general direction were swamped by the detail of individual policies.

Asked whether 'spinning' and the hard line taken by ministers may also have dampened enthusiasm, she is willing to see there are problems with perception.

But Labour's health team are not just bullies, she insists.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Mythen is also enthusiastic about consultation about a national plan for health, describing this as 'a really good thing to do', a chance for people to hold an 'open debate' and a chance to get 'good ideas' to ministers.

'I do not understand why people are so cynical about it, ' she says.'I do not understand why people are not ecstatic to be asked.'

Enthusing them will be a key aim over the next year.'An interesting challenge' on several levels.

The Mythen CV: on and up Holds an MSc in medical microbiology and a BA in politics, philosophy and history.

Started work in 1974 as a medical laboratory scientific officer at Greenwich District Hospital.

Labour's health policy officer from January 1994 to September 1997, and subsequently the party's head of policy until April this year.

Now chief executive of the New Health Network, based in Southwark.

Defining moments: the New Health Network A not-for-profit organisation with an executive group chaired by Claire Perry, former chief executive of Bromley health authority.

Draws members from a range of NHS professions, industry, politics and community groups.

'Committed to the founding principles of the NHS' and to 'championing change' in the health service that benefits patients and the general public.

Organising a conference in June on access to the NHS and hopes to overhaul its website, set up an electronic newsletter, and organise regional groups in the near future.