Meet the Peterborough man at the forefront of healthcare training

Sir Keith Pearson from Peterborough. Photo: Rowland Hobson
Sir Keith Pearson from Peterborough. Photo: Rowland Hobson
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Sir Keith Pearson, 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, Peterborough.

Sir Keith Pearson heads up Health Education England, the organisation which was established in June to provide national leadership to the new system of education and training in healthcare.

Peterborough City Hospital, Bretton. Photo: Paul Franks

Peterborough City Hospital, Bretton. Photo: Paul Franks

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.

Sir Keith, from Orton Northgate, 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.

Tell us about your new role with the air ambulance.

I have been involved with healthcare for a very long time, and what has really impressed me is that in a country where we have healthcare free at the point of use, where we jealously guard the principles that underpin the NHS, the public has said that this was such an important issue for them that they were prepared to raise the money to provide the helicopters.

If you think of the energy alone that the public puts into the air ambulance, and the amount of money raised, this is Big Society working – and it has been working for a long time.

This is communities saying: we are prepared to put our hands in our pockets to raise millions of pounds each year so that an air ambulance is there in our hour of need.

When a critical incident and major trauma demand that there is a high speed response from a doctor-led paramedic team that’s what East Anglian Air Ambulance service provides across the Eastern counties. I have always had an interest in ambulances – I did some work in providing ambulances to Kosovo – and what interested me was that the ambulance service see this as a very valuable extension of their service.

I believe the response times being achieved by the land-based NHS Ambulance services are probably at or near the optimal level, so increased response times and speedier retrieval and movement of critically ill patients is unrealistic.

We have the capabilities of getting to the furthest reaches very quickly, something that is fairly recent to the service, and of course the East of England is going into night flying.

Has that been well supported?

The public recognises that many of the traumas we suffer happen after dark - as the winter months come on for example we tend to see an increase in the number of road accidents.

It has been warmly welcomed, and is starting trial operations out of Cambridge air field, and then a second one will be commissioned out of Norfolk.

A lot of work is being done to find the landing sites where we can put the ambulances down, and we know where the approaches are, but the key is this is what the public wants. And they are not saying ‘someone else must provide it – they are finding the funds themselves.

So it’s a big step forward and we are trailblazers, and we should be proud of that.

The trial is this year, and then it’s up to other AA charities to see if there’s a case for doing it there. We should be pretty proud of this and I would like to thank everyone for the energy that goes on day-in, day-out.

You are now chair of Health Education England. Tell us about that.

It is still in start-up. Appointed in June, when we had our first board meeting.

We will take on some limited responsibilities in October and then we will take over fully the £4.9 billion budget and the resources needed to commission and deliver education and training for the workforce in the NHS.

Part of the real challenge for us in a changing landscape for health care, is how many of each of member of the workforce do we need, because if you want a consultant in any branch of medicine you are looking at at least 10 years before you can deliver one, so your thinking today about what the workforce will be is always going to be influenced by how quickly you can deliver those.

The whole agenda for healthcare is changing as the population ages.

We will expect to see more care delivered in your home by nurse or possibly doctors from hospitals working in the community. That is going to put challenges to your hospital services.

We do a lot of the consultations in a hospital building. Why, when they could be done at home? Many people say – and this is not an age thing – that they would like to have a relationship with their doctor via Skype or email.

The opening lines of the NHS constitution say that the NHS belongs to the people, so if that’s true the people should shape the kind of NHS they want, how they want it delivered, and if what they want is not clinically safe we should be capable of explaining why.

As the population ages that which we do in hospital – surgery, investigations, major medical interventions – will continue to increase in number.

That’s the challenge for Peterborough. We see the hospital facing real challenges around its finances, but if it didn’t exist you would build it because you simply need a hospital here to deliver the services the public expects in a modern city.

The contribution the public needs to think about is this: ‘Are we helping the hospital by our continued dependency on going to the A and E department, when actually tomorrow morning we can go to our GP?’

Has Peterborough City Hospital been well received in its first two years?

It is outstanding, and if we are a modern, growing cosmopolitan city we need to have the very best of healthcare services.

But we can’t continue to rack up debts in the NHS which need servicing at the expense of patient care. So the challenge is to become ever more efficient and deliver the care they deliver.

My sense is that they have a good leadership team, and that they are well aware of the challenges – and they know what the route to the solutions may be.

What do you think of Peterborough as a city?

We came here in 2004 from the South west. My son, his wife and two grandchildren were here, and we moved to be with them, but after 18 months they moved to Singapore, where we used to live.

We looked at Peterborough to find somewhere to live and several things struck us.

It is green - I love cycling and you can cycle miles here on relatively flat tracks, to see the most glorious countryside. From the town bridge you can be out in the Fens in 10 minutes.

The other thing that impressed me was how cosmopolitan it is. As a place to move to I was surprised by that – whether it was Rotary, the NHS, neighbours – it is a very friendly city.

It is a city with massive ambition and our forebears had that ambition. The road network was not an accident and it has provided the backbone for the continued expansion.

I do think the local authority works hard to get close to the public and understand their ambitions. Through the difficult economic times they are continuing to sell the city, and you have to feel proud of that.

As we come out of the economic trough we will be well placed to sell ourselves as the new home county for London, with trains less than 50 minutes. away

It’s a new place for manufacturing and the council is very accommodating of new business, but we have got to keep going with our housebuilding – without that we will not attract the people into the city that we want. Getting the balance right between investment in building, the infrastructure for business, and continuing to sell the city to people who are wavering about where they want to go is something I would not want to manage but the council seem to be doing a pretty good job 
of it.