Head of personnel, Ashworth Hospital Authority


Maggie Stainton, 42, was appointed in August to this post, having been at Ashworth for the past year as associate director (human resources) with a brief to support the hospital's HR function. The authority has 1,600 staff.

What was your career path?

I followed a BEd degree from St Martin's College, Lancaster, with supply teaching, but quickly realised teaching was not for me. I did some temporary work in the NHS in Lancaster and this led into my first post as a unit personnel administrator at Lancaster's Albert Hospital for people with learning disabilities. I then started studying for my Institute of Health Services Management exams. In 1988 I became personnel manager with the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, becoming director of personnel at the Lancaster Acute Hospitals trust in 1995. But when my trust and two others merged last year, my job disappeared. I got the opportunity to move to Ashworth as an extra post to support the HR function. Following reorganisation the head of personnel post became vacant. I applied and got the job.

Describe your job

I am responsible for the full range of personnel services in the authority - from offering advice and support in best personnel practice to the board and managers, to managing recruitment and selection centrally and supporting line managers in dealing with sickness, disciplinary and grievance matters. I have a key role in dealing with the trade unions, which include the Prison Officers' Association, the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, MSF, the lecturers' union NATFHE and the BMA. I manage all the machinery around our working together - we have good robust consultative machinery. I also manage four professional staff and eight support staff in my department. The main difference to working in a trust is the security aspect and the fact that, as a health authority, we are governed by Whitley Council and so have less flexibility around employment issues. The security issue means that all prospective employees have to have their credentials checked via the Criminal Records Office, which was only done for certain posts in the trust.

You also have to be mindful of your own personal security. I have to go into secure areas for meetings, and I had to undergo the same control and responsibility training as all staff here.

How many hours a week do you work?

I start at 8.30am and usually finish around 5.30-6pm. If I have any late meetings I try to balance this by going a little earlier on another day.

What aspects of your job do you most enjoy?

Working with people and problem-solving, whether this is quite simple, such as the application of policy, or the more difficult areas of dealing with disciplinary or grievance problems. It all sounds very motherhood- and-apple-pie, but working with colleagues, sharing ideas and working through problems is very fulfilling. I would hate to work on my own.

What aspects are most frustrating?

People not wanting to move as fast as I do in terms of problem-solving and moving things on.

What has been the high point of your career?

I can't think of one particular high point, but some things just stick in your mind - such as the first time I introduced a jobshare at Lancaster and the difference this made to the two people concerned.

What has been the worst moment?

The first time I had to make someone redundant. I had known and worked with them for a while and it was very difficult. He cried. Fortunately I have only ever been involved in a handful of redundancies.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

Coming to Ashworth and having to establish myself. I had been well known at Lancaster. Here no-one knew me. We were also waiting for the publication of the judicial review, the Fallon report (into management failures and allegations of pornography and drug and child abuse at Ashworth), so there was lots of uncertainty and job turnover. I had to make people aware that I was not a here-today, gone-tomorrow person.

What is your biggest challenge for the next year?

This is a complex organisation with a big agenda. I will be reviewing the employment issues framework to help move the organisation forward. Many of the key policies and procedures have not been reviewed for some time so I will be tackling that. I will also review the structure of my department so that it is closer to the direction that personnel is all about. Any personnel job has similarities, but this one is different around the edges - the agenda and the people are different.

What's been the hardest thing you've had to do?

Letting go of Lancaster. I was there for 15 years. I had to move out of my comfort zone and take a leap into the unknown. But it was time to move on.

How do you unwind?

I have a long journey to work by car and I see this time as precious. I enjoy motoring - we have a classic sports car for weekends. I also like gardening. And we have a close extended family we spend time with.