David Prior reflects on his 11 years as chairman at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
12:16 29 January 2013
When David Prior took over the reins at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital 11 years ago, staff and patients were in the process of switching to new surroundings at Colney after moving out of the city to a £200m purpose-built facility.
Major concerns were raised about the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) costs to pay for the new hospital and there were teething problems with the creation of a new medical school.
Since then, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has not stood still, with a host of new developments and construction projects.
Looking back on his time as chairman, Mr Prior said he had thoroughly enjoyed his 11 years and that he had left the hospital trust in a healthier position than when he first started.
“When I became chairman, everyone said it was a poisoned chalice and that I must be mad. I have loved every minute, even in the dark days. It is a pleasure to be working with so many committed, talented and hard-working people, and it is fantastic to be part of that team,” he said.
On Monday, the 58-year-old started a new challenge by becoming the chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is responsible for ensuring standards of care are met in health services and social care across the country.
One of his first jobs will be to pick up the pieces of the findings of the forthcoming Francis Report looking into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected from 2005 to 2008. Another challenge will be to establish public confidence in a regulator formed three years ago following a critical report from MPs last month.
Mr Prior, who was a Conservative MP for North Norfolk up until 2001, said it was important that lessons were learnt from the “catastrophic failings” of care at Mid Staffs and it was essential that nurses and doctors could express concerns about standards of care in hospitals.
“There is a risk it [Mid Staffs] could happen again. There will be another disaster, but it will be a different disaster. The NHS employs 1.3m people and is a hugely complicated organisation. It is hard to ensure that every part of it works.
“It is an interesting time to be going to the CQC. It has got to change and we have to hold our hands up and say in the past we have betrayed the trust of people who have hugely admired the NHS. It is not just letting down the British public, it is letting down the vast majority of doctors and nurses who do a good job. All staff have a massive incentive to make sure Mid Staffs does not happen again,” he said.
Mr Prior said he would continue to live in Norfolk, despite his new work being based in London. He added that he had clocked up more than 2,500 miles walking around the hospital in his time at the N&N. He also became a patient at the Colney hospital last year after falling from a ladder at home and badly breaking his pelvis and hip.
Mr Prior said he was proud that the hospital achieved foundation trust status five years ago, which meant the NHS trust was more accountable to its governors.
“I would like to thank the people that had the strategic thinking to move from the old hospital to the new hospital and have a medical school with the University of East Anglia. It means we have a world class hospital and means people in Norfolk can get better care and makes the UEA a stronger university and the Norwich Research Park to become a world player.
“There were challenges with the PFI, and the medical school and the Norwich Research Park was at a very early stage, but it did not fail because we have a very talented workforce here. Medicine is dynamic and the hospital was originally designed for 700 beds and it now has 1,000 beds. We are in good shape and the clinical outcomes are much better,” he said.
Mr Prior added that whoever becomes the new chairman of the foundation trust will be faced with the challenge of doing more with less money in the future.
“The overriding challenge facing the NHS is that demand for care is growing faster than the available money. How we maintain high quality services is the biggest particular issue facing the country. Forty percent of all patients in acute hospitals have dementia and most people would recognise that an acute hospital is not the best place for older people and we need a system where they can be looked after at home,” he said.