The outgoing chief executive of NHS Wales has defended the service’s performance in the country under his watch as he prepares to return to a leadership position within the English health service.  

David Sissling, who has stepped down from the senior role in order to become chief executive of Kettering General Hospital Trust, told HSJ that under a range of performance measures, the Welsh service showed a “positive pattern”.

The Welsh NHS has recently come under criticism for its performance in a number of key measures, such as waiting times. In November 2013 only 88.4 per cent of patients requiring hospital treatment were treated within 26 weeks. The Welsh government’s target is for 95 per cent to be treated within this time.

While English policymakers have embraced an increased role for private providers, competition and a commissioner/provider split, the NHS in Wales has rejected such moves in favour of more centralised care provision, provided by a handful of regional bodies, known as health boards.

The poor performance has been seized on by critics of the Welsh Labour government.

When questioned on the different challenges facing the neighbouring NHS systems Mr Sissling said it was “inappropriate” to say one system is better than another.

He added: “They have obviously taken a different path. I’m sure there are opportunities to learn from both of them.

“I think that [in Wales] we’ve made progress on areas such as the integration of care.”

Mr Sissling wants his successor to concentrate on the use of primary care as a “driving force” to further integration of Welsh health services.

Before becoming chief executive of NHS Wales in 2009, Mr Sissling led the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire & Rutland Strategic Health Authority until its dissolution in 2006, and the Northamptonshire Health Authority before that.

Playing down press reports of mounting financial problems for Welsh NHS bodies, he said: “We will break even this year. That’s a consequence of a lot of careful planning and rigorous attention to both efficiency and developing innovative models of care, which allow every pound to be optimised. 

“I think the analysis of spend per head is less important than how you use the money available for the NHS.

Mr Sissling is joining Kettering at a challenging time for the organisation which was issued with a warning notice by the Care Quality Commission last year.

He will be Kettering’s fifth chief executive in as many years but insisted he was joining the organisation “for the long term”.