Dido Harding addresses the Cambridge Health Network


On 19 April, the Cambridge Health Network had the honour of being addressed by Baroness Dido Harding, the recently appointed Chair of NHS Improvement.

Prior to joining NHS Improvement, Harding was Chief Executive at TalkTalk from 2010-2017. Harding is widely credited for transforming the customer experience during her time at TalkTalk. She steered the company as the evolution in technology posed difficult challenges, and even threats – as witnessed when the company was hacked in 2015. Today, Harding is also a non-executive director on the Bank of England’s Court of Directors; as well as being a Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

Having been formed in 2016, NHS Improvement was just over a year old when Harding joined. It was created with the goal of improving health outcomes and reducing health inequalities whilst maintaining financially sustainable health services.

Harding told the CHN audience that in her role, she tries to keep three things in mind. The first is that it makes no sense for NHS employees to be continually told that the health service is failing. Rather, we should remind ourselves that the NHS remains one of the best and fairest health systems in the world, and that it is an institution of which we can be proud. Helping people to feel pride in working for an institution such as the NHS can only have a positive effect on the work that its staff do, and therefore make the NHS function better.

The second point Harding bears in mind is that despite this, she is aware that the NHS could be so much better. But this belief, she stressed, does not clash with the previous one. Constantly striving to improve is something common amongst high-performing individuals and companies. It is common knowledge that Harding used to be a jockey, and she mentioned how she learnt this lesson from one of the world’s great jockeys, Tony McCoy. Despite consistently winning, he would make sure to rewatch all of his races and make note of where he could improve.

The third point was that whilst it is true that the NHS needs more funding, this is a problem of success rather than failure. Our health system has helped us to lead healthier, longer lives – meaning that more and more people than ever are using it.  In conjunction with these three points, Harding stressed that the importance of investing in and upskilling NHS employees.

Harding also discussed that collaboration at every level is of the utmost importance, and therefore the relationship NHSI has with NHS England is crucial.

We learnt that whilst it is not legally possible for there to be a formal merger between the two bodies, joint ventures will be formed where possible. These joint ventures will  include the creation of seven “single integrated regional teams” which are replacing five existing regional teams. Whilst the organisations themselves will be kept separate with distinct governance boards and chief executives, the new regional teams will be led by a director who works for both NHSE and NHSI. These new teams will be operational from September onwards.

The two bodies will be combining some national teams and posts where possible. These efforts will help to improve efficiency throughout the NHS by breaking down boundaries between its different sectors, by pooling resources where possible to more efficiently support local health systems and their patients, and by cutting back on unnecessary duplication.

Whilst problems undoubtedly exist in service delivery, Harding filled the room with positivity about the NHS. Our health system is worthy of our pride, but is also one that we should constantly and continually strive to improve, through both the empowerment of those who work for organisations like NHSI, and ensuring the collaboration of the sort being seen between NHSE and NHSI.