Sir Andrew Morris cannot rest on his laurels after his celebrated turnaround of Wexham Park Hospital – the NHS needs him too much

Whatever it takes to be a great leader, Frimley Health chief executive Sir Andrew Morris has got it in spades.

His career has seen many achievements – but they have been crowned by securing the Care Quality Commission’s first “outstanding” rating for Frimley Park and then rescuing Wexham Park – a hospital long consigned to “basket case” status.

The CQC described the Wexham Park turnaround as the “most impressive” it had seen. Chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards declared that Wexham’s new leadership “had brought with them a set of values which has put excellent patient care and experience at the heart of the hospital.”

Sir Mike is not given to being effusive, but a conversation with him about Sir Andrew reveals an almost visceral response to the Frimley boss’s leadership style.

Emotional speech

Sir Andrew certainly walks the walk. An HSJ reader commented that he “often arrives in the Emergency Department at 0730, before the night shift goes off, and enquires how things have gone”. They add: “To still be doing that after you have got your knighthood is pretty impressive.”

News of the emotional speech Sir Andrew gave thanking the Wexham Park team after the CQC’s verdict was known has already spread far beyond the trust.

And should he have read this far his toes will already be curling as his genuine humility would much rather see praise directed at others.

Given that the Carter report will inevitably lead to accusations of poor management within the NHS, to have such a shining example in the same news cycle is very welcome. It is also good, given the focus on management created by the number of trust’s seeking to pay executives more than the prime minister, to have such clear demonstration of value for money.

Mindbendingly complex

Sir Andrew has never been one for following fashion and firmly rejects the conventional wisdom that trust mergers do not work. Echoing the findings of HSJ’s inquiry into the future leadership of the NHS, chaired by University College London Hospitals chief executive Sir Robert Naylor, he stated: “We’ve still got too many organisations on the provider and commissioning side of the NHS.”

One of Sir Robert’s points was that rationalisation was needed because there were too few leaders capable of dealing with the mindbendingly complex job of being an NHS trust chief executive. HSJ would agree – pausing only to raise a slightly quizzical eyebrow over the fact that Sir Robert is having to stay on in post because the UCLH board would not accept the suggestion of their favoured candidate, the Royal Free’s David Sloman, that the two trusts be joined.

If there were better use of the NHS’s existing top talent then Monitor would not have to be placing so much reliance on management consultants to deliver trust turnaround.

This being true, HSJ will take the risk of querying Sir Andrew’s lack of enthusiasm for extending the Frimley Park miracle to other trusts within the region which need help – there is no shortage of candidates.

Very senior system managers tell HSJ Sir Andrew needed quite a lot of gentle arm twisting to accept the job of turning round Wexham Park. Peers will admire his canny approach, which appears to have netted him £300m worth of support for the job, and comment that any trust chief exec who jumps at every merger option presented by the centre will soon crash and burn.

But these are tough times for the NHS and those trust chief executives who have built a reputation for excellence within a single organisation or locality need to take the risk and extend their influence.

So come on Sir Andrew – and peers – spread your wings and make sure Wexham Park is not a one off.