5 minutes with Marcia Saunders, Independent Chair, Health Education North West London

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Professional Development

Where were you brought up? Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Which subject did you like most at school? English

What was your first job? Wrapping meat in a super market then working in a research library

What was your first job in healthcare? Chief officer of one of the country’s first community health councils

What was your first job in research? Devising patient satisfaction questionnaires.  Although I have a research degree, most of my involvement has been in commissioning research and evaluations.  Now as Chair of HE NWL I am particularly interested in a strategic approach to research and the translation of research into innovation and  improved care. I think researchers are critical not only in leading or supporting research but also in helping others to understand it and its benefits – in creating an environment receptive to evidence and change.

Why did you apply for that job? An interest and admiration for the NHS and a wish to remain in the UK.

What job do you do now? Independent Chair of the Board, which is responsible for workforce planning  and commissions training and education for the entire health service workforce across North West London. The Board is a subcommittee of Health Education England and is one of three LETBs in London and thirteen in England.

What do you like most about your job? What I love most are the people, the complexities, the opportunities to learn and the unexpected.

What do you like least about your job? The downside of the centralised culture of the NHS (the upside is funding out of general taxation and all the principles and values that flow from that). Constant structural change  is not a substitute for good management, ongoing professional and organisational development and cultural change.

What might a typical day in your job look like?   There is no typical day. The chair’s role is focused in strategy, governance and relationships and that covers a huge, varied and often fascinating sweep – I learn something new every day.  A recurring theme is the need to close the gap (and sometimes hostility) between hospital and primary care, something that is almost unique to England.

What is the one thing you feel is most misunderstood about your job? People think LETBs deliver training and education; we don’t – colleges, universities and NHS organisations do that.   We are provider-led commissioners as are CCGs.  I’m not sure that people have really noticed that demise of the purchasing/providing split.

What one thing would you change about healthcare research? A greater focus on what constitutes compassionate care- what would work for a patient with dementia and their families/friends/carers.  There’s been a huge focus on health science, cost-benefit analysis etc. but Francis is telling us to reconnect with caring.  I think nurses and AHPs could really influence this. I think multiprofessional research will help drive this forward.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting their career in healthcare? Be sure you really want to do it – it’s  a great privilege and huge responsibility to have such a career, but it’s certainly not easy.

If you had not worked in healthcare, what would you have done and why? I’d have been an English Lit academic in the USA.

What do you think the role of the research nurse will look like in 20 years’ time? That more nurses will be leading research as well as supporting others’  research; that research will be more multi-disciplinary; that research nurses will be central to creating a research-receptive workforce and that the NHS will therefore be even stronger.

marcia-saunders-imgMarcia is Chair of Health Education North West London, a Local Education and Training Board accountable to Health Education England. Part of the new NHS architecture, HENWL is responsible for workforce planning and strategy, and for commissioning education and training for health services staff of all professions, disciplines and levels in North West London. She was formerly Chair of NHS Brent and Harrow, Vice Chair of the North West London Primary Care Trust Cluster and Chair of the North West London Health Innovation and Education Partnership Board. Marcia is a member of the Board of Governors of De Montfort University, a performance assessor for the General Medical Council (GMC) and a member of the Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA)’s Independent Scientific Advisory Committee for the use of the General Practice Research Database (GPRD). Her main career was in local government and in management.





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