Sir David Sloman is the Chief Operating Officer of NHS England. He was recently described by the editor of the Health Service Journal as having had ‘one of the great NHS leadership careers.’ Here he talks about lifelong learning, how doctors at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary saved his life and looking forward to spending more time at the RSM when he retires from the NHS in September 2023.
You’re always at your happiest when you’re learning
I think there are four elements to a successful career; enjoyment, purpose, impact and learning. I’ve been privileged to have had a career which is meaningful. I’ve had the opportunity to make an impact. And I’m constantly learning. I’m not saying that every day has been another day in paradise, but it’s been an incredibly rewarding and enriching career.
The NHS saved my life when I was nine years old
My public service ethos is a legacy from the life-saving treatment I received from doctors and nurses at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, after I contracted osteomyelitis (bone infection) as a nine-year-old. I joined the NHS after university as a national trainee in the graduate trainee scheme, which was then and still is, one of the top graduate schemes in the UK.
The NHS is as responsible for promoting health as it is for providing healthcare
Climate change is not a side issue for NHS staff, our communities or our society. Whether it’s electrifying the ambulance fleet, using drones to transport medical supplies or decarbonising our operating theatres and buildings, we have to look at innovative ways of reducing our carbon footprint in all areas of our operations.
I’ve learnt so much about the power of faith leadership
When I was the NHS regional director for London, the focus on inequalities was central to our work on the vaccine programme. Engaging with faith leaders meant we were able to access communities once termed ‘hard to reach’. Addressing inequalities isn’t something you manage on the side. It’s something you mainstream with everything else you do.
People have been talking about AI in healthcare for years
We’re at a tipping point with artificial intelligence (AI), which will make a dramatic difference to the planning and delivery of healthcare. There have already been some fantastic innovations in the areas of ophthalmology, dermatology and cancer care. The richness of the data we have at our disposal in the NHS will allow us to be much more targeted and precise in the way that we provide services to the diverse communities we serve.
As a trainee I had to spend half a day in the typing pool at Charing Cross Hospital
Since I joined the NHS, innovations in digital and medical technologies have transformed the service. The rapid advances in diagnostics, therapeutics and informatics in my lifetime have been extraordinary. One of the most valuable transformations, though, has been the radical transformation of mental health services, particularly when the large asylums were shut down. That was revolutionary and a bold step in the move towards local community-based care.
If you don’t make a mistake or two along the way, you're not being ambitious enough in the first place
If I was writing a letter to my younger self, I’d say be yourself. A successful career comes down to what makes you happy in life. It comes back around to doing something with purpose, making an impact and always being on the lookout for learning new things.
I’m looking forward to spending more time at the RSM
The RSM is a great place to work, play and learn. It’s in a fantastic location, it’s well organised and it’s great value. Given what I do currently, I spend more time working than playing at the RSM, but I’m looking forward to availing myself of all the RSM has to offer when I retire from the NHS in September.