The man chairing the committee that will lay down the blueprint for teaching the doctors, nurses and healthcare staff of the future lives in Orton Northgate.
Sir Keith Pearson heads up Health Education England, the organisation established in June to provide national leadership to the new system of education and training in healthcare.
The body aims to ensure that staff are available with the right skills and knowledge to meet changing needs, ensure greater accountability against service improvements, and that investments achieve good value for money.
He is also now a trustee of the East Anglian Air Ambulance, which is taking brave but necessary new steps – or flights - towards night flights, which will push the charity’s annual fundraising target up to £6 million a year.
His career has been spent in both the public and private sector of healthcare, in England, Europe and the far east, and as a former chair of the NHS East of England and the NHS confederation.
Sir Keith – knighted in 2010 for services to healthcare - spoke to the Peterborough Telegraph about the challenges ahead in healthcare and the city, and his other sideline as a novelist.
For more of his interview pick up a copy of Thursday’s Peterborough Telegraph.
Your background is in the public and private sector. Is that an advantage?
I think it’s proved to be an advantage. I came into the NHS in 1998 full of expectations that it would not be able to match up to what I had seen in the private sector, characterised by being able to deliver healthcare at a convenient time to you.
What I found in the NHS was some very positive people, who were technically very good, but we weren’t operating the NHS on its constitution – that it belongs to the people.
We were not very good at public service. It was regarded as acceptable that people should wait 18 months to 2 years for a non-urgent case to be dealt with. If you talk to the public they would say it was not at all acceptable.
So I think what I have brought from the private sector is an ambition to do things better, more efficiently in both cost and care, and constantly keep an eye on what the public are saying.
We are now more customer-focused. Thankfully our customers now press us harder. They want better, quicker, and to be treated as individuals.
There’s a long way to go. Many hospitals are turning to organisations such as John Lewis, which are well-renowned for putting customers at the heart of what they do.
I left my private medical insurance behind and if I need to use healthcare I come to the NHS the same as other people, but the advantage that I have is that where I see things that can be improved I know who to contact to try to get those changes for all of us. I’m a secret shopper!
How did you feel when the NHS played a part in the Olympics opening ceremony?
It made me feel very proud. It delivered that confirmation that the Government, of whatever colour it is, will always keep the free-at-the-point-of-entry NHS.
There are difficult phases and we are going through one at the moment, but as long as we challenge ourselves as a nation to hold firm to those founding principles we will continue to have a healthcare system which is the envy of the world.
There’s a lot of debate going on around the world. The Obama healthcare bill is being challenged by the Republicans, but not fairly, because the interpretation of the NHS as a socialist system is long gone.
We pay for it through tax, and that is why we need to be much more personally accountable to the public. Rather than being grateful for the service, the public should be holding us to account.
How do you maintain that? Do you consult more people?
There are many ways. You have Twitter, Facebook, and the new clinical commissioning groups.
Doctors are talking to patients every day and they are one of the best routes to understand what the public wants.
If you want to change a service and you ask doctors, nurses and allied health professionals they will give you one set of dimensions. Go and talk to the healthcare staff alongside the public, and you will get something the public expects and wants to use, and also something that can be delivered by the health officials - you will get a synthesis.
Health and wellbeing boards will have a real responsibility to get close to the communities involved.
And the hospital has its governors, its members, who are very active and tuned into what the public wants. Put all that together and you get close to a system that I would like to see where the public says what it wants and the service responds to that.
People understand the NHS to some degree but often don’t know what all the various groups do - Have you encountered that problem?
I have. The classic role of a GP is to be a gatekeeper but also a signposter, and it remains a mystery to the public why we go to the hospital on a Monday, then perhaps go back on Tuesday for something else, and then get back for the results three weeks later.
Why can we not join them together into one day of diagnostics? In the private healthcare sector and indeed some NHS hospitals it is already happening.
So it is having people with the clinical skills who can foresee what the diagnostic requirement will be, that ties up with the commissioning with the hospital in a set of sequences that ends up with the patient seeing a consultant with all the information there.
If you think about the carbon miles we drive from our homes in Peterborough to the hospital for check ups and follow ups its colossal. Our pollution footprint is massive and we need to cut that down. I’m 65 and have a Skype account to talk to my grandchildren. - why can’t I do that with my consultant?
Telehealth, telecoaching and telemedicine are products of the future and rather than being fearful of them the public want to embrace them.
Tell us about your book (Children in Her Shadow),
I have always had an interest in writing but set it to one side. But the genesis was that I wanted to write a biography about my mother.
I started the first five years of my life in an orphanage and was then brought up with my father and stepmother, only to find out much later that not only was she alive, but had abandoned three children and gone onto a new family.
These were post war years and I wanted to see if posthumously I could write a biography. But as many families of that era found secrecy and an unwillingness to give information meant I couldn’t do that. So I decided to use it as the basis for a novel.
I did a massive amount of research, 18 months, which was really important.
It tells the story of Ruth, born in the 1920s and the values of that time, left the valleys of Wales and saw the horrendous bombing of Cardiff, and then went on to work in aeroplanes in Blackpool.
It’s quite interesting that although many aeroplanes were built, and many personnel were trained in Blackpool, it begged the question as to why it was never bombed.
Through research I found that Hitler had decided that he wanted to spare Blackpool because he saw it as a place where he could march his stormtroopers down the promenade and run the swastika off Blackpool Tower.
I later discovered that he had been taken there as a child and it had remained in his consciousness.
The book challenges your emotions and the feedback I have had is that is very difficult to put down, which is very gratifying,
The sequel to the book is 60,000 words in and will talk to the three children of the family that Ruth abandoned, and I have two other planned.