Chief Executive, Andy Heeps can’t recall what it was that inspired him to want to become a doctor. He jokes it was because he liked Casualty when he was growing up.
But he knows what the motivation was.
Andy grew up in the railway town of Crewe in Cheshire and went to the local comprehensive, Ruskin High School, just down the road from the house he lived in.
With half a mind on a career in medicine but still unsure, he had a talk with a careers officer, who advised him: “Kids from this school don’t get to become doctors.”
Turns out that they do.
Andy said: “I can’t repeat what I thought when he said that. But it got me thinking more and more about it. I did some work experience in the neo-natal unit at Leighton Hospital in Crewe, really enjoyed it. My journey started there.”
Leaving Crewe for London at 18, Andy trained at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School and after training in north west London worked as a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician as well as other medical leadership roles at Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals, before moving to North Middlesex University Hospitals NHS Trust to become their Chief Operating Officer.
It was there when he first became involved with Patient First.
“I had always been a fan of what Western Sussex did in terms of quality improvement. I had done a masters in quality improvement in healthcare and was always really interested in what organisations in America did, like Virginia Mason, about lean improvement methodologies. So to see an organisation really take it on in the UK was really interesting,” Andy said.
“When I went to North Mid I agreed with my boss that we needed to adopt something similar and so we worked with Marianne, Pete and George and the team to implement a similar system to Patient First and that was how I got to know and build working relationships with them all.”
Andy had been Chief Operating Officer (COO) for two years and then combined that role with a year as deputy chief executive, before becoming interim chief executive for four months at the end of the second wave of COVID-19.
Just as he was contemplating what his next step in his career should be, the opportunity came along to join UHSussex.
Joining last September, Andy’s followed a similar path to his North Mid journey and is relishing the opportunity to lead the Trust as interim chief executive through these continually challenging times.
Andy said: “When I was asked by Alan (McCarthy, chairman) if I’d consider it I didn’t really have to think twice. What I’ve realised since I came here is that it’s our people who are outstanding at UHSussex. That’s true of many NHS organisations but especially so here.
“To help serve them in this role is really exciting for me. I think we have some challenging times ahead; we are still not out of Covid, it’s still having an effect on us day after day, the recovery of our elective services is a massive challenge and we are seeing unprecedented pressures at the front door in our Urgent and Emergency Care pathways.
“We have to balance all this off when everything else is returning to business as usual with the normal financial and performance regulations coming back in. The transition in leadership is really important because even though I’ve only been here a short time, we need to provide stability before George comes back.”
In the meantime Andy knows there is work to do.
“The work that is going on in all our emergency departments (EDs) – all 4 – is incredible and people are working right at the limit of their comfort zone with just the pressure of people coming through the front door. Our teams are doing incredibly and whenever I go through any of our EDs it is really humbling. I stopped practising just over 2 years ago; I was still on the wards as a COO. Busy labour wards in the middle of the night, that feeling of when is this shift going to end. I really get the sort of thing people are going through.
“My job is to really work with the system to try and get some more processes in place to help support moving people through the hospital or getting those patients who no longer need to be here to the right place for their care, getting alternatives for people at the front door.
“There is a guy called James Clear who wrote a book called Atomic Habits and he says you never rise to the level of your goals but you fall to the level of your processes and I really like that as it reminds me of Patient First because it means that whatever you want to do, if your processes aren’t right you won’t deliver.
“What Patient First gets us to do is: get those processes right, work with our colleagues and partners on those processes and that’s what’s going to get us out of this and onto our next chapter of UHSussex.
“We can’t fix the problem as we wish it was, we’ve got to fix the problem that’s in front of us.
Having moved down to Shoreham from London with his partner, Ben, and their goldendoodle, Ferdinand, after nearly 30 years in the capital, Andy is ready for the immediate and long-term challenges.
Whatever his role in UHSussex, Andy is committed to a vision that will see this Trust as a leader in healthcare in the UK.
“UHSussex, by various measures is about the fifth largest Trust in England. It has a massive social responsibility to the people of Sussex to ensure that they are living as well as they can, and as healthy a life as possible.
“I really have a vision for us as an anchor institution that we employ locally. We are of a size when people should be able to join this trust as a health care assistant (HCA) in Worthing and in 12 years be in a position to be Chief Nurse; you should be able to have that career route without having to leave our organisation and getting the full gamut of experience.
“We should be able to deliver secondary and tertiary care for the people of Sussex in a seamless way where they don’t care who the provider is or what the building is; they just know that that care is going to be great.
“We’ve got the opportunity to do what the really high performing healthcare systems in the States do and say ‘we’ve got 7 hospitals, we’re driving out that unnecessary clinical variation, we’ve got these really clear pathways that people can come in and get the health care they need and get out quick and get on with their lives.’
“We’ve got that opportunity to be, I think, something quite special in the UK, a real beacon for continuous improvement that we are already known for, but really pushing that out across the organisation and using it to drive up clinical standards.”
For Andy that’s only possible because of the people that make UHSussex what it is.
“The real resource we have and the real potential is our people. So whenever great things happen here it’s not because someone sits in an office along the exec corridor and thinks they should do it, it always comes out of an idea on the shop floor.
“People doing the job know how to improve the job and the joy of Patient First is that it harnesses that power and amplifies it across the organisation
“We have to have goals and ambition. We have to get the basics right but we need to know what direction we are heading in.”
Everyone at UHsussex can make this happen, whichever school they went to.