The overarching theme of HSJ’s 2023 ranking of the NHS’s leading provider trust chief executives is one of change. Twenty-four of the names in the top 50 are new when compared to the 2022 list, although some have appeared in the rankings during previous years.
We also have a new number one chief executive – Angela Hillery, the leader of Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust and Leicestershire Partnership Trust.
The full list can be viewed here
HSJ’s ranking of the NHS’s top 50 provider trust CEOs launched in 2014. It is judged every year by a panel of senior and respected healthcare leaders. This year’s judges included Health Education England CEO Navina Evans, NHS Providers CEO Sir Julian Hartley, NHS England chief operating officer Sir David Sloman, and Donna Ockenden, chair of the independent review into maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust. A full list of judges can be found here.
Judges are asked to choose the top 50 based on the performance of the organisation run by the CEO, their contribution to the wider healthcare system, and the personal example they set to peers and employees. The focus was on their likely impact during the next 12 months, although past performance was taken into account. This year, judges ranked the top 18.
Each year, places in the top 50 are opened up by retirements and promotions to national or regional roles. 2023 was no different, with previous stalwarts of the list having moved on – including Sir Mike Deegan (retired), Sir Julian Hartley (now chief executive of NHS Providers), Sarah-Jane Marsh (now a national NHSE director), and Clare Panniker (now NHSE regional boss in the east).
But 19 serving chief executives have slipped from the top 50.
The most surprising exit is that of Derbyshire Community Health Services FT chief executive Tracy Allen, last year’s number two. There was no suggestion during the judging that Ms Allen had done anything wrong, just that others were more deserving of a place this year.
Other leaders of “outstanding” trusts who slipped from the list include Berkshire Healthcare’s Julian Emms, Kingston Hospital’s Jo Farrar, The Walton Centre’s Jan Ross, Liverpool Heart and Chest’s Jane Tomkinson, and Cambridgeshire Community Services’ Matthew Winn.
A notable re-entry is East Suffolk and North Essex FT CEO Nick Hulme. Mr Hulme’s blunt style has not always found favour with the judges of HSJ’s Top Chief Executives. But his consistent and sometimes controversial record in telling it how it is as the service struggles on every front was admired by the 2023 panel, and Mr Hulme finds himself at number 16.
Mention should also be made of Royal Surrey’s Louise Stead, who was the highest new entry at number 13.
Another new entrant singled out for specific praise by the judges was Hertfordshire Community’s Elliot Howard-Jones. The many “good things” his trust was involved in grabbed him the number 17 spot. Just reward for spending two years as interim before being made permanent last April.
Great Ormond Street’s CEO Matthew Shaw is the first boss of the iconic children’s trust to make it into the top 50, recognition of his willingness to help out with some thorny issues in the London healthcare economy.
Former surgeon Mr Shaw was one of only two specialist trust chief executives to make it into the top 50 this year. The other was The Royal Marsden’s Cally Palmer.
The new number one
Angela Hillery arrived in the HSJ Top 50 in 2018, and has been present every year since. Last year, she was placed in the four-strong joint runners up pack behind number one Eugine Yafele (who is placed sixth this year) and Ms Allen.
Ms Hillery is the third consecutive mental health trust chief executive to top the poll, following Rob Wester and Mr Yafele (who had only just moved from Dorset Healthcare University FT to University Hospitals Bristol and Weston FT when last year’s list was revealed).
She is also only the second woman to take the top spot, following Dame Marianne Griffiths two-year reign in 2018 and 2019.
Since 2019, Ms Hillery has led two trusts (Northamptonshire Healthcare FT and Leicestershire Partnership Trust) – making her one of the pioneers of a trend now sweeping the service.
The former speech and language therapist is becoming an increasingly influential figure regionally and nationally. During 2022, she led NHS support for the struggling independent mental healthcare provider St Andrew’s, arguing its failure would destabilise the health economy.
Her trusts are now lead providers for regional CAMHS and adult eating disorder collaboratives, and the leading players in the East Midlands Alliance for mental health and learning disabilities.
She is on the Midlands Strategic Transformation Recovery Board; part of the National Mental Health Restoration and Recovery Group; and a member of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Psycho-social Group.
Top chief executives since 2015
2015: Sir David Dalton, Salford Royal FT
2016: Sir David Dalton, Salford Royal FT
2017: Sir Andrew Morris, Frimley Health FT
2018: Dame Marianne Griffiths, Sussex University Hospitals FT and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust
2019: Dame Marianne Griffiths, Sussex University Hospitals FT and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust
2021: Rob Webster, South West Yorkshire Partnership FT
2022: Eugine Yafele, Dorset Healthcare University FT
*The top 50 were not ranked in the launch year of 2014. There was no top 50 in 2020.
The rising stars
Each year the Top 50 reveals which chief executives are seeing their reputations rise – and could therefore be next in line for a national role or a promotion to one of the NHS’s biggest CEO jobs, such as the vacant post at University Hospitals Birmingham.
The names of three very different chief executives jump out this year: Joe Harrison (Milton Keynes University Hospital FT), Owen Williams (Northern Care Alliance FT), and Richard Mitchell (University Hospitals of Leicester Trust).
Mr Harrison’s position at number two reflects his success in turning round his trust, and his commitment to areas such as staff wellbeing and the use of new technology. The latter saw him rewarded with a national role charged with developing the use of the NHS App – which is a bigger deal than it sounds.
The Milton Keynes boss is someone not afraid to admit the NHS is failing to deliver the care it should. The same can be said for Mr Williams, who has very little time for the image management many CEOs go in for – even making some tough statements about his own, highly rated, organisation.
His local authority background means he is also very dismissive of NHS’s exceptionalism. This is reflected in his work demonstrating how the NHS’s elective recovery could – if left to traditional methods of prioritising patients – disadvantage those from poor backgrounds. A care home assistant getting the nod over a barrister in the race for a new knee has Mr Williams to thank.
Leicester’s Mr Mitchell is a much quieter character but just as steely. He has his hands full turning round an organisation which has been beset by problems, both structural and of its own making, for many years. Mr Mitchell desperately needs to win funding for the trust’s new hospital. If he succeeds, and UHL starts to flourish, he may be able to pick his next job.
The rise of the clinicians
Almost half of the top 50 have a clinical background (there are six medics, 13 nurses, three allied health professionals and one paramedic). Of the top 18, six are clinicians – though none is a medic.
The number of female chief executives has fallen to 20, which is the lowest level for several years. CEOs from a minority ethnic background have doubled when compared to last year (though there are still only four).
As in every year except 2022, white men form the slight majority of the list.