Commission Board member Anthea Penny - Leadership can transform health systems

1 Feb 2011 | Health Quality & Safety Commission

Anthea is director of R H Penny Ltd and has been running leadership programmes in New Zealand and overseas for the last twelve years. She says leaders are there to improve performance, but it can be easy to lose sight of this goal in the rush of day-to-day activity.

“We have the opportunity to transform our health system, so we can energise people and drive change. The Commission’s vision is for a world class health and disability system, with a commitment to continuous quality improvement and a reputation for patient-centred care that is high quality and excellent value for money.

“To achieve this, I believe health bodies need to be high performing health care organisations that have outstanding leadership, with engaged physicians and health managers making significant investment into building capacity for improvement.

“There is already some great work being carried out in this country on health quality and safety, but to achieve the goal of having a world class health and disability system, we need to continue to foster and support strong clinical and managerial leadership.”

She says having a plan that mobilises people within the organisation or community to transform the way they do things in order to improve performance and achieve excellence is essential if organisations are to improve.

“Organisations that have made significant changes resulting in improved performance have generally started with a very strategic approach by developing a vision and a strategy for change. They then map out the steps they need to take to engage the rest of the organisation, identify and work with stakeholders and consumers, and include robust evaluation measures so success can be demonstrated.

“Performance improvement is about empowering people at the interface between clinical processes and the patient. A leader’s job is to make sure people delivering healthcare have the tools and ability to constantly be looking for opportunities to improve processes and performance.”

She says organisations that have used a performance improvement approach have achieved some quite dramatic results.

“For example, in 2002, the Royal Exeter and Devon Foundation Hospital Trust faced criticism that patients were waiting too long in the emergency department and for operations, and were being moved to several different wards during their stay.

“The Trust developed a ‘community of interest’ – working with social services and local agencies, voluntary organisations, primary care trusts and acute trusts. They listened to consumers and asked what could be done better.

“By identifying the issues, the Trust was able to put in place better systems and processes, such as improving discharge processes across the community.

“The results were outstanding. In one year 854 referrals – 77 percent – avoided admission, and there were savings to the primary care trusts of over one million pounds. Patients received the right care in the right place at the right time.”

Today the Royal Exeter and Devon Foundation Hospital Trust continues to excel. It has stable staff and is running a financial surplus.

Anthea Penny says the positive change achieved by the Trust was due to committed leaders who: 

  • put the patient at the centre of care
  • engaged with clinicians and created ‘communities of interest’
  • had a compelling vision and strategy for change
  • created a ‘receptive context’ for change among staff and management
  • used and spread improvement ideas and methodologies
  • measured for success
  • developed a learning environment and empowered front-line staff to move from a problem solving to a ‘what if’ culture.

“I am really excited about the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s role in working with organisations in New Zealand to make similar changes.

“Often change need not be cajoled or coerced. Instead it can be unleashed!”

Last updated 19/01/2012