• Sir Leonard Fenwick worried that hospital chain would mean taking his “eye of the ball” of Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust
  • Longest serving NHS chief executive attributes outstanding rating to “good relationship with staff”
  • Newcastle being “brought back into the fold” to help with “salvage” of North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust

The longest serving NHS chief executive has said he would be worried that managing a hospital chain would result in him taking his “eye off the ball”.

Sir Leonard Fenwick

Sir Leonard Fenwick

However, Sir Leonard Fenwick, who has run Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust and its predecessor organisations for 38 years, said chains could work in some areas.

Sir Leonard was speaking to HSJ after his trust became the fifth in the country to be rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

When asked whether he would be interested in spreading Newcastle’s expertise through a hospital chain, he said: “When it comes to chains, am I wholly convinced? Well perhaps in some instances, depending upon the geography, the history, culture.

“But in others… this trust for example already is large, I would worry about taking the eye off the ball.

“Would we want to be held to account [for other hospitals] on a day to day, week by week, bump and grind basis? I’m not so sure.”

However, Sir Leonard said Newcastle would be “proactive in the North East in relation to [the sustainability and transformation plan] and opportunities in Tyne and Wear”.

He also said Newcastle was being “brought back into the fold” to “help with the salvage of North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust” – a provider which has been in special measures since 2013.

North Cumbria is buddied with Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust, which was selected to acquire the trust in 2012, though the transaction is effectively on hold.

Newcastle also bid to acquire North Cumbria but lost to Northumbria – a move which Sir Leonard said had resulted in “many years of lost opportunity”.

When asked what was behind Newcastle’s outstanding rating, he said it was because of the trust’s “tremendous workforce” and the management’s “good relationship with the staff side”.

“I go back to the winter of discontent… where more or less we kept our hospitals running, through common purpose and understanding with the staff side,” he said.

Sir Leonard said the CQC inspection was a “dynamic, positive experience”, noting that the trust was visited towards the end of the inspection programme and the CQC had been through a “learning curve”.

But he reiterated his view that other areas of NHS regulation had “become very heavy duty” and were “an exponential industry”.

When asked whether his own longevity as chief executive had played a part in the outstanding rating, he said it might be a “contributor… but at the end of the day’s it’s the underpinning team”.

“Many of the development, investment opportunities you need for change do need time. You need a consistency in the leadership to steer through both the calm and stormy waters,” he added.