Reflecting on My First Year as CEO of AvMA
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I write this blog on the first anniversary of my appointment as CEO of AvMA and at the end of a busy year. This is a time to pause and reflect for a few moments about the year behind me and the priorities ahead as we go into 2024.
I vividly remember day two at the helm last January and still getting clear in my mind which of the many priorities I had on my long to-do list I was going to do that day. And then the phone rang.
The Eye of a Storm
It was a national newspaper seeking a quote about the winter backlog in the NHS and those not seen in a reasonable timeframe, especially in A&E. No sooner had I put the phone down than another call came in. This time, it was from a TV news desk doing in-depth, and at the time, undercover research into patient safety failings at a UK hospital. They wanted to know if we had any beneficiaries who could talk to their team. And so, it went on. This was not what I was expecting.
My predecessor had told me that there was some occasional media interest in our work, which is what I expected. But this felt like the eye of a storm. And indeed, it has felt all year that issues relating to patient safety have never been far from the news.
We had NHS winter pressures, record NHS waiting lists, industrial action by healthcare workers, the tragic case of Martha Mills and the call for Martha’s Rule and who can forget Lucy Letby – a story that gained national and global attention. But why was I surprised; after all, our health is incredibly precious, and the difference between good health and care and a poor one involving a medical incident can be life-changing.
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
This level of media interest was a positive reminder that I had taken on a role in a charity that punches above its weight in trying to ensure that the people we serve get the help and support they need at a time of their life when their health, which may not have been good before, may well have been made worse by a medical incident.
I recognised that in terms of my predecessors – Arnold and Peter – I am standing on the shoulders of giants. But in doing so, I take comfort that I will keep my balance because of the team I have supporting me – my trustees, a great team of 20 staff ably supported by over 100 helpline volunteers most legally qualified. A chief executive, however good, is never more than the team around them, and what I have is truly fantastic.
Before joining AvMA, I had spent many years as a regulator and, latterly, an ombudsman. I readily accepted that whatever decision I made, I could only ever please about half my customers or businesses and that the other half would criticise me. And when, before that, I worked at the Legal Aid Board, I accepted that all lawyers generally loathed me! So, I cannot tell you how refreshing it has been to join AvMA, where the goodwill shown towards us by nearly everyone I have met (including lawyers!) has been nothing other than incredibly positive.
Meeting Remarkable Individuals
Over the last 12 months, I have also tried to get out and meet the numerous people representing the many organisations that AvMA works so well with, whether big healthcare bodies or charities and groups doing such wonderful work alongside us.
I also met beneficiaries and those who have had direct experience with the trauma, pain and loss that can go alongside a profound and sometimes life-changing medical incident. I have been deeply moved by the fortitude of those people to not only deal with their pain and suffering but also go on to campaign for change, hopefully preventing the same thing from happening to other people.
Three people, in particular, stand out for me:
- James Titcombe. His book “Joshua’s Story” was one of the most moving books I have had the chance to read. James’ support to AvMA has been really appreciated.
- Joanne Hughes. I have had the privilege of learning from Jo what restorative justice is meant to be, and it has given me real insights into how we might apply this across healthcare.
- Will Powell. Will’s thirty-plus-year fight for justice for his son Robbie is profoundly moving. His case goes beyond patient safety to encompass wider ones of institutional failings and a gross miscarriage of justice from healthcare to the police, not helped by the CPS. Will rightly campaigns for an inquiry, and his reasoning is hard to deny, given the failures he can point to across so many institutions.
Looking Ahead to 2024
I look forward to 2024. I see another busy year where the work underway with our trustees to set our next five-year strategy will make for a demanding but good stretch. We will want to prioritise four things as I see it:
- Widening the reach of AvMA to communities that need us, especially disadvantaged ones where we know there is a clear link between health inequalities and patient safety concerns.
- Better empowerment for patients who have been harmed to get the support and remedy they seek. Where we can, we will look to alternative dispute mechanisms as access to conventional justice gets increasingly restricted by things such as Fixed Recoverable Costs.
- Further action to minimise the compounded harm that can arise when a medical accident is poorly handled and patients are denied the courtesy of acknowledging harm that has been caused and a suitable apology as a basic starting point to some form of meaningful remedy.
- A resourcing plan that can ensure AvMA has a sustainable financial model to support our ambitions to widen our reach and secure better remedies for patients.
These four priorities should help deliver my vision of securing the remedy and healing that the people we support need.
How You Can Contribute
So, if you would like to make a contribution – however small or large – to our ambitious plans, you can donate here. That would be really appreciated, given all our work must be self-funded.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is the UK’s leading patient safety and access to justice charity. We offer a range of services to patients and families impacted by avoidable medical harm. We are completely independent and rely on volunteers, fundraising and generous donations from supporters to enable us to help patients and bring about change. Find out more at www.avma.org.uk
You will also be helping us to give vital support to injured patients and to be a powerful voice for patients, patient safety and justice.
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