‘Match NHS pledge with funds for so­cial care’

Rob Web­ster ‘fell into’ the civil ser­vice and has spent the last three decades in lead­ing health­care roles. Lindsay Pantry re­ports on how ‘ev­ery­thing he does’ is guided by his val­ues, be­liefs and the in­flu­ence of his fam­ily.

Yorkshire Post - - FRONT PAGE -

THE GOV­ERN­MENT must match its £20bn a year in­vest­ment in the NHS with sim­i­lar fund­ing for so­cial care and pub­lic health if Yorkshire’s health ser­vices are to meet their am­bi­tions, a re­gional leader has warned.

Speak­ing to The Yorkshire Post, Rob Web­ster, lead chief ex­ec­u­tive of the West Yorkshire and Har­ro­gate Health and Care Part­ner­ship, one of three sus­tain­abil­ity and trans­for­ma­tion part­ner­ships in the re­gion, said the “quite con­tentious” part­ner­ships were the best way to tackle the re­gion’s health in­equal­i­ties - but for them to rise to their chal­lenges, greater in­vest­ment was needed.

The part­ner­ships, which bring to­gether hospi­tal and health trusts with coun­cils to pool re­sources and change the way care is de­liv­ered to help plug fund­ing black holes, have pre­vi­ously been crit­i­cised as a route to back-door pri­vati­sa­tion of the NHS.

But Mr Web­ster said they are “more likely to re­tain pub­lic own­er­ship of the NHS and so­cial care sys­tem”, and that they are the tool to im­ple­ment the Prime Min­is­ter’s 10-year plan for the NHS.

“The in­vest­ment in the NHS is wel­come, but what we need now from the chan­cel­lor and the Gov­ern­ment is sim­i­lar in­vest­ment in so­cial care and pub­lic health so that we can meet our am­bi­tions,” he said.

He warned that de­spite the “sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial pres­sures” faced by the NHS, sight should not be lost of the im­por­tance of local gov­ern­ment and pub­lic health in im­pact­ing Yorkshire’s health, and that a “shift” is need to deal with the peo­ple liv­ing longer with mul­ti­ple health is­sues.

WHETHER YOU’RE a “granny in Grimethorpe or a young of­fender in Wetherby”, Rob Web­ster wants to help you ful­fil your po­ten­tial.

And as chief ex­ec­u­tive of South West Yorkshire Part­ner­ship NHS Foun­da­tion Trust, he be­lieves in the power of his staff to help do that. So much so, he meets ev­ery sin­gle new mem­ber of staff and asks them the same ques­tion why they work come to work for the NHS. Many he says, give the same an­swer he would: “to make a dif­fer­ence”.

His ap­proach to lead­er­ship has been shaped by the per­son he be­came, go­ing to univer­sity instead of the ship­yard in his home­town and ris­ing through the civil ser­vice; and shaped by his fam­ily, his son Ge­orge, who has Down’s Syn­drome yet “ex­ceeds all” he thought pos­si­ble, and the me­mory of his “pop­u­lar, charis­matic, gen­er­ous”, who took his own life a decade ago, his loss leav­ing a “sub­stan­tial” im­pact on those who loved him.

Mr Web­ster has been at the helm at South West Yorkshire for a lit­tle over two years, run­ning men­tal health, com­mu­nity, learn­ing dis­abil­ity and well­be­ing ser­vices across Barns­ley, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wake­field. But he also leads West Yorkshire and Har­ro­gate Health and Care Part­ner­ship, the col­lec­tion of 32 health trust, coun­cils and or­gan­i­sa­tions col­lec­tively in charge of the £5.5bn an­nual health­care bud­gets for 2.6m peo­ple across a vast swathe of Yorkshire.

Its pur­pose, he says, is to come to­gether to “spend that money bet­ter”.

“The part­ner­ship is an an­ti­dote to the usual top-down re­or­gan­i­sa­tion that you see in the NHS,” he said. “It’s built from the bot­tom up, by local lead­ers work­ing to­gether be­cause it’s the right thing to do, not be­cause they are told what to do.

“I learnt a long time ago that it’s eas­ier to be your­self than pre­tend to be some­one else. As a leader, I think you have got to be au­then­tic be­cause peo­ple can tell when you’re not. The thing I al­ways do in ev­ery job that I start, whether it’s work­ing in the Prime Min­is­ter’s De­liv­ery Unit or as front­line chief exec, is tell peo­ple what I be­lieve in, and that comes down to the be­lief that we can make a dif­fer­ence. That peo­ple have po­ten­tial, what we have do is cre­ate the cul­ture for them to succeed.”

His fam­ily guides him. His son Ge­orge, 18, has taught him about “peo­ple and po­ten­tial and the way in which our sys­tems work”, and his father, who has a long his­tory of health prob­lems and is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“We bring our whole selves to work and the things that we find in our own lives guide us,” Mr Web­ster said. “With Ge­orge for ex­am­ple, he’s prob­a­bly the most pos­i­tive per­son I know.

“He al­ways thinks he can do some­thing and he tends to end up do­ing it, and exceeding all the things I thought were pos­si­ble.”

The part­ner­ship has three big chal­lenges, Mr Web­ster says, start­ing with health in­equal­i­ties.

“We know where you live will de­fine how long you live and how well you live. If you travel from North Leeds to South Leeds, it’s 10 miles. Ev­ery mile you walk, you lose a year of life ex­pectancy. Sec­ond, tackle un­war­ranted vari­a­tion - the post­code lottery ex­ists and shouldn’t; and the third is that we have to live within the re­sources that we’ve got. As a part­ner­ship, we’ve started to do that. We want to fo­cus on the things that will make the biggest dif­fer­ence.”

And those things are cancer, stroke and men­tal health. To re­duce cancer deaths, it’s start­ing with tack­ling smok­ing; late di­ag­no­sis, par­tic­u­larly in poorer com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple are seek­ing help later; and lung cancer, which re­mains the biggest killer. For stroke care, the aim is preven­tion but also en­sur­ing ac­cess to five hy­per­a­cute stroke units.

Fi­nally, it is treat­ing men­tal health as a pri­or­ity, which has al­ready led to in­vest­ments in an eat­ing dis­or­der unit, peri­na­tal ser­vices for ex­pec­tant and new moth­ers, and a new child and men­tal health unit in Leeds.

Speak­ing in the week that marked World Sui­cide Preven­tion Day, an­other aim is to re­duce the num­ber of sui­cides by peo­ple within the men­tal health ser­vice by 75 per cent, and the num­ber of over­all sui­cides by 10 per cent. A deeply per­sonal cause for Mr Web­ster. Talk­ing is key.

“Sui­cide is not in­evitable. Some­thing like 28 per­cent of sui­cides in West Yorkshire are in touch with men­tal health ser­vices, which means the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who die by sui­cide are not - but they will be in touch with some­body.”

Mr Web­ster said it took him 10 years to talk openly about his brother, who took his own life in 2003 at the age of 32, due to the stigma as­so­ci­ated with it. Then, as part of the Time to Change cam­paign he pledged to talk about it more, and he wrote a blog post en­ti­tled ‘say­ing yes to life de­spite ev­ery­thing’.

“The re­sponse to that was re­ally phe­nom­e­nal,” he said. “In the sub­se­quent years, what we’ve seen in so­ci­ety is that peo­ple are much more will­ing to talk about men­tal health, and in­creas­ingly, about sui­cide, and it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant that we do.

“Many peo­ple think if they are wor­ried about some­body, that they should never talk about them be­ing sui­ci­dal, Ac­tu­ally the right thing to do is to ask. The right thing to do is to talk.

“I know in the case of my brother, that he’d lost hope. He felt help­less. And lack of hope, and help­less­ness, are the things that kill you. There is al­ways hope, and there is al­ways help. Sui­cide is still the biggest killer of young men, and it is some­thing that we can im­prove.”

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