'I used to be frightened when a colleague wore a Virginia Bottomley mask in times of stress'

I am no statistician, but the chances of me being found in a dodgy bar late tonight, clutching a carrier bag while tunelessly murmuring the words to My Way seem significantly higher than usual.

After all, leaving dos are no time to toy with tradition.

Yes (and I know I've said this before), this really is my last column, and the last time to insist - against the better judgment of our sub editors - that I should be allowed to use more italics than is necessary.

So excuse me if I'm feeling a tad nostalgic.

It is eight years since I joined HSJ as a reporter, having declared - to the bemusement of several onlookers - that I had found my dream job, in health policy. Thankfully, the days of child labour are no longer with us. During that time I have had different roles, bosses, and teams. But it has all been for the good ship HSJ.

Meanwhile, Dobson, Milburn, Reid and Hewitt have come and mostly gone.

Now it is finally time for me to say adieu, if not farewell (oh, stop me someone, anyone) because next week I become The Sunday Telegraph's health correspondent.

Clearing out the administrative debris, some frightening revelations emerge: a complex paper trail that follows the 2003 request for a whiteboard and wall planner; several outline business cases for telephones and computers; 1,143 unread emails, five mildly amusing pictures of ministers pulling funny faces (actually, they're all of John Hutton... incredibly mobile jowls). All this shall come to pass.

So, yep, you can't take it with you, or rather you certainly can't if you have limited organisational skills and a relatively small suitcase.

Luckily, it turns out that the main things I want to take with me are rather more portable: a heap of memories, a few leaked documents, dozens of unprintable anecdotes and, perhaps more practically and critically, the details of contacts built and relationships established and strengthened over the years.

It made me think a bit about parallels in the NHS: the first, in terms of people.

Undoubtedly a far larger and more complex business than any I have ever worked for, yet in the same way the health service stands and falls on the quality of the people working for it and of the relationships between them.

Despite an increasingly intense health service focus on measuring value and quality, via metrics,
fitness for purpose and the like, we all know from our own personal experience just how hard it is to measure concepts like trust and goodwill.

Obviously, any business as large and complex as the health service cannot just be left to the good intentions of those working for it. Efforts to transform the way services are run clearly require goals and distinct measures of what success looks like.

But, as others have pointed out, the risk is that clumsy attempts to quantify the unquantifiable do not just lose sight of that which is priceless, but actually do untold damage along the way.

Then there is the issue of memory. Personally, I try not to scare young reporters too often by testing them on the content of John Denham's ministerial brief, much in the way that I used to be frightened by the tendency of a former colleague to wear a Virginia Bottomley mask in times of stress - but a constant chopping and changing of NHS structures has created pointless damage to corporate memory.

Still more critically, it has obviously done untold damage to the somewhat nebulous but vital asset that is morale.

HSJ's recent survey of chief executives relayed feelings of anger, disappointment and, in several cases, betrayal that would have been hard to predict in the days before Commissioning a Patient-led NHS (see pages 5-8 of 1 March issue).

Ministers know this. Tony Blair knows this. He chose carefully when he gave rising star Andy Burnham the task of developing a strategy for engagement with NHS staff. So far, that project has focused on shadowing staff and a touchy-feely report.

But Mr Burnham has impressed unions by his willingness to engage with them, and to create new forums to ensure a more inclusive approach to policy-making.

So far, there is one group missing from all of this: not so surprisingly, it's managers.

The coming weeks will provide some tough tests for the government. To a backdrop of growing unrest over pay, further encouraged in England by Scotland's decision last week to give nurses their pay rise in one go, a brave Mr Burnham will be dispatched to the Royal College of Nursing congress, which last year gave Hewitt such a hostile reception.

Only HSJ's most sceptical readers would - and have - questioned how the decision was made to send to this particular gig the man officially 'bubbling under' the top 10 in Sky News' league table of sexy MPs.

More seriously, Mr Burnham knows how important it is to connect with frontline staff if the current tide of anger against the government is to have any chance of being turned back.

His careful performance on BBC2's Newsnight, after HSJ's survey revealed some of the anger and despair being felt among chief executives about the handling of the current set of reforms, suggests that in his heart he knows just how important it is for this government to reconnect with the local leaders of the NHS.

Meanwhile, I have my own reconnecting to do, as my new role will undoubtedly mean taking - at least some of the time - a different perspective on familiar material.

As I leave, I have much to thank HSJ for, having been exposed to a wealth of talent, wisdom and leadership across the field. But more, much more than this I'm grateful that I really got the chance to do it my way.

Laura Donnelly has been news editor of HSJ since 2002.