my brilliant career - human resources director

Published: 30/09/2004, Volume II4, No. 5925 Page 36 37

A distinguished career in HR was interrupted when Bryan Carpenter's skills were needed helping to build the new South African health service.

Now he's back, and talking to Nick Edwards

Name: Bryan Carpenter

Job title: Director of human resources, Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals trust

Age: 58 Salary:£85,000

How did you start in HR?

I joined the NHS in 1974 from local government as management services and work study officer for South East Thames health authority. At the time there was a big drive on incentive schemes for ancillary staff - called payment by results, funnily enough - and I began to take a very active interest in industrial relations.

Two years later I became industrial and manpower planning officer in Basingstoke and north Hampshire.

that was my first real human resources job. But in those days no-one did workforce planning - if you asked a lot of HR managers how many people they employed they wouldn't know.

It was immensely enjoyable but very stressful as you were dealing with a lot of strikes. I became district personnel officer before joining West Lambeth HA in 1984.

This was in the wake of the Scarman report on the Brixton riots and there was a strong left-wing influence on the authority. I put together what I believe was the first ever equal opportunities policy in health. I also did a lot of work with the Florence Nightingale school of nursing, which was being investigated by the Commission for Racial Equality about its application process. We worked with them on access courses that would encourage local people, often from a minority background, to apply.

It was a forerunner of a lot of the local recruitment policies that trusts are doing more and more of today. I left there in 1986 and joined Plymouth HA as director of manpower.

Have attitudes to racial diversity changed?

In 1991 I joined South Devon trust, part of the first wave, as director of HR. As far as I know I was the only non-white director in the whole of the NHS. People used to be very surprised to see me, and I think That is still the case sometimes.

HR has been hugely successful in gender terms. It has been a great disappointment that it hasn't happened to the same extent on race. There is a glass ceiling.

If you reflect your demographic, then that shows you're getting there - but you have to work on diversity indefinitely. Certainly I do not think any NHS trust can truly say they are a diverse organisation.

That said, There is an important future issue with age discrimination because of the coming legislation - that will be a concern for HR when 95 per cent of trusts still have retirement policies. But then I've always thought it strange that trusts which struggle to recruit good people insist that people with 25 years' experience get a: 'Thanks, here's your gold watch'.

Did you ever want to be a chief executive?

By 1996 I was thinking about that - I got shortlisted a couple of times but found I was slightly relieved when I didn't get it. So I stopped. But then a job came up - and it seemed to answer my prayers. I was seconded to the Department for International Development to work as an HR consultant in South Africa for two years - to rebuild the health service after the first democratic elections. It seemed to bring everything that was important in my life together.

What was your biggest challenge?

The old South Africa was very bureaucratic - it was the most rule-bound organisation I've seen. And yet there were no appraisals, no job descriptions. Promotion was based on race and how long you had done a certain job.

And if I went to the homelands in the eastern cape it was incredibly backward. It would take four or five days just to arrange the trip, because you could never get through to the right person on the phone. It used to drive me nuts. But helping and seeing the appreciation was one of the most rewarding things I've done: they couldn't get enough of it.

What happened next?

After a few months doing some work for DfID in Ghana, in 1998 I went back to South Devon and thought I would end my career there. But I was going back to South Africa every quarter and got collared by the superintendent general of Natal. He was building a tertiary hospital in Durban, paperless and a private finance initiative.

He wanted me to commission it and be chief executive for four years. I said no initially, but he was crafty enough to show me the site - I was flabbergasted. I talked to my family and said yes.

I went over in May 2000. It was absolutely fantastic and I was absolutely bloody terrified: I would never done anything like it before - from nothing to 846 beds.

Last year I came back and joined Kent and Medway SHA as director of workforce development and strategic HR. I found it very difficult to settle. I resigned, hoping to return to an acute hospital and tackle the new HR agenda. I joined this trust in March.

How has HR changed?

It is entirely different to the late 1990s - HR directors are of a far greater calibre than 10 years ago. Now you really need to understand the delivery of health services. In my position you are expected to work primarily as a director of the trust, who happens to have expertise in HR - I can't sleep through the finance director's report and wake up in time for mine!