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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 00:05 GMT
'Doctors are a law unto themselves'
Sir Gerry Robinson
Sir Gerry thinks doctors need closer managing
One of Britain's most experienced and successful businessmen was given one hospital, no money and six months to cut waiting lists at a NHS Trust in Yorkshire. In BBC Two's Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?, he gives his diagnosis.

Rotherham General is a good hospital and had received the highest rating possible in its annual review.

But the chief executive Brian James had great ambitions for the hospital.

His vision was to provide hospital services with no waiting times.

I feel it was one of the most difficult things I have ever taken on
Sir Gerry Robinson

He had starting implementing his plans and waiting lists had started coming down.

But he asked for Sir Gerry Robinson's help to see if he could speed up the process.

After a six-month stint, Sir Gerry feels he was given a unique insight into the turbulent world of the NHS.

Sir Gerry, who has headed a string of leading UK companies, said of the challenge: "I feel it was one of the most difficult things I have ever taken on."

Among his many previous jobs he has been chairman of Granada as well as chairman of BSkyB plc, ITN, Allied Domecq plc, and the Arts Council (England).

One of the main things that struck Sir Gerry was how within the NHS there was no management in the normal sense.

"The consultants were a law unto themselves."

Lack of engagement

Sir Gerry found this most clearly in the child health department.

The general manager had been trying to get waiting times down but was having difficulties engaging the consultants in her plans.

We must stop thinking about the NHS as some kind of unmanageable monster and get back to realising its an extremely precious thing
Sir Gerry Robinson

After a lot of frustration and many meetings, the consultants agreed to see extra patients, bringing waiting times down from eight weeks to two.

Sir Gerry was stunned at just how simple the answer to the problem was, but equally, just how difficult it had been to make happen.

"What you really see here is the power the consultants wield in the NHS.

"If the consultants don't want to do it, then it won't happen, as simple as that.

"In what other organisation would that be allowed to happen?"

From this, and many other examples, Sir Gerry concluded that in the NHS there was a feeling that "management is some way-up-in-the-clouds kind of issue whereas in truth management is about getting Mary and George to do something differently."

On the frontline

When Sir Gerry met Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to discuss his experiences she agreed management was not just about big strategic plans.

She said: "The single most important thing that a leader or a manager can do is be out there on the shop floor at the coalface with the staff with the patients, I think that's absolutely critical.

"And I've no doubt at all the best managers are the people who are doing that."

But to get the highest quality managers it needs, Sir Gerry believes the NHS must pay the going rate - far more than it does now but easily achievable within a budget of almost 100bn.

So after six months in the NHS what was Sir Gerry's final verdict?

"I met some amazing people, people who wanted to make things happen.

"If there is a lesson we must learn from this experience, it is that we must stop thinking about the NHS as some kind of unmanageable monster and get back to realising it's an extremely precious thing that just needs managing in a day-to-day way.

"And that that can actually be done."

Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? is on BBC Two at 2100GMT on Mon 8, Tue 9 and Wed 10 January.

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