Keith McNeil, ex CEO Addenbrooke’s Hospital Trust

That would be like giving a Stradivarius to Nero to play whilst Rome burnt”

Keith was full of quotes. I didn’t get them all. Don’t do shorthand. But hey, this is my personal take on a quite fabulous evening of chat between Roy Lilley and Prof Keith McNeil, recently CEO at Addenbrooke’s hospital Trust in Cambridge. Yes, you saw it in the news. Now, we lucky few (and those who watched on Periscope via Twitter – and still there until Thursday night) – were privileged to hear the man’s own take on it all.

Look, 75% of the consultants (clinicians, not the external accountancy firms who bleed the NHS of resource) wrote a collective letter asking him to stay.  I am sure Health Secretary Hunts letter just got lost in the post.

“We make important what is easy to measure, because it is hard to measure what is important”. OMG (if you will allow me a neologism). So the CQC said that Addenbrooke’s was failing. Or dysfunctional. Or whatever sound bite became the headline that now makes it more expensive to recruit, more expensive to hire agency staff, more expensive to replace a perfectly strategic CEO, because they need to prove themselves useful. One questioner asked, “putting aside the conclusions, did you recognise the body of the report as Addenbrooke’s?” Of course, Keith said, “nothing was new. And we were tackling every single one of the items they wrote about”.  I’m with Roy Lilley on this. Self-serving ineptitude on that scale would not be tolerated in a normal market economy. The CQC is not fit for purpose, because it measures what is easy to measure.  Not outcomes. Only inputs. And it thinks inspection works.

Yes, Keith did say that they were not squeaky clean (which hospital, anywhere in the world, is?). But everything was in hand. And he was an empowering leader.  And a world class one at that. Who was also, incidentally, a clinician, pioneering on Heart Lung Transplants, who is both visionary and loves the NHS.

And we have let him go.

Shame. Shame on us for letting it happen. Shame on the CQC for not realising the unintended consequences of their methodology. Shame on Monitor, The DoH, and any one of the myriad of hands off hide behind someone else, sloping shoulders non-leaders who point at shortfalls and do nothing to support.

I’m glad I was there.  Let’s get some more facts, about the hospital itself:

  • 18 months without an MRSA case
  • C Difficile – really low
  • 91% of staff would refer a family member
  • No maternal deaths in 18 months
  • Lowest still birth rate in the country

(But CQC said that maternity care was unsatisfactory).

Measuring outcomes not tick box inputs? Which do you think patients might think is more important?

More from Keith:

  • “Don’t use the mind-set to fix the problem that created the problem” (ok this was Einstein, not Keith…)
  • “Money will drive behaviours

And his underlying philosophy?

  1. Know what your values are, and stick to them
  2. Focus on what the patient needs
  3. Hire the best people, and get the hell out of the way (and then take the credit!!)

What a loss. “I love the NHS and would come back tomorrow”.

But we haven’t got the guts to do it, have we? Maybe make him CEO of the CQC.

Thanks Prof McNeil. It was a privilege.