‘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.
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.”