The NHS is a national disgrace – how could a 76-year-old state-run monopoly not be? – in part because for 50+ years its #1 objective (albeit unstated) has been to provide huge numbers of well-paid highly secure jobs (mainly part-time) for women.
Shortly after her appointment as the head of NHS England last week, Amanda Pritchard said she was honoured to become “the first woman chief executive of an organisation whose staff are more than three quarters female”.
Pritchard, 45, who once abseiled down the side of a hospital for charity, said the diversity of the NHS “makes it very special”, adding she was “delighted to represent women”. [J4MB: It’s a disgrace that she sees herself as “representing” women, when healthcare provision for men by the NHS is so much worse than for women.]
The daughter of a bishop and a mathematics teacher, Pritchard was educated at Durham Johnston Comprehensive before heading to Oxford, where she studied modern history at St Anne’s College. Growing up, she wanted to be a doctor, “until I realised I was no good at science”, she said in 2013.
Still determined to forge a career in healthcare, she joined the NHS via its graduate management training scheme in 1997. She never left. “I fell in love with it from the moment I started, and I have never stopped being absolutely committed to the health service,” she told a hospital magazine in 2015. She has held key roles including running London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, one of the busiest trusts in Britain.
Asked who her hero was in an NHS newsletter eight years ago, she replied: “Queen Elizabeth I, because she was a strong female leader in a male-dominated world.”
Pritchard has a “strong public service ethos” and says background should not be a barrier. That sentiment will chime with Sajid Javid, the health secretary. Born in Rochdale in 1969, he grew up above a shop with two bedrooms for a family of seven. His father was a bus driver who arrived in the 1960s with £1 in his pocket. “A northerner in charge of the Department of Health and now a northerner running the NHS — it’s about time,” a senior official who has worked for both organisations said.
In her role of chief executive, which she begins today, Pritchard will be in charge of the NHS’s annual budget of about £130 billion and the service’s 1.2 million staff. “There are big challenges ahead as NHS staff continue to deal with significant pressures while maintaining the rollout of the hugely successful NHS vaccination programme and tackle backlogs that have inevitably built up in the face of rising Covid infections,” she said last week.
“However the skill, determination and ‘can-do’ spirit that NHS staff have shown in the face of the greatest challenge in the health service’s history means we face the future with confidence.”
Her most recent role was as chief operating officer of NHS England, which meant she was in charge of operational performance during the pandemic. To cope with the strain of the past 16 months, Pritchard regularly took walks with her puppy. She also managed to keep her new year resolution to take two ten-minute breaks each day to text a friend, enjoy fresh air or simply do nothing.
Effectively the deputy of Lord Stevens of Birmingham, the outgoing chief executive, colleagues describe her as brilliant and incredibly focused but also kind and empathetic. She is known for a no-nonsense approach but has a lighter side.
A married mother of three, Pritchard has expressed an interest in climbing and told how she enjoyed running a book club with friends. “About half the time, it involves serious discussions, and the other half is spent drinking and gossiping,” she said in 2013.
Asked how she described her previous role as chief operating officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’s to her two sons and one daughter, she said: “The closest they’ve come to understanding what I do was when I told them I’m a bit like the headmistress.”
Some who have worked with Pritchard say she will be less combative than Stevens, who confronted the government publicly over NHS funding. One said she was likely to carry out her budget negotiations in private. But ministers who think she might be easily won over should beware: Pritchard is a former British debating champion.
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