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Dickon Weir-Hughes – Executive

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Former chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Dickon Weir-Hughes, 50, values his role as CQC specialist advisor and urges others with decades of experience to join him.

"Before moving into management, I had a long clinical career as a nurse. I was the chief nurse and deputy chief executive of The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and professor of nursing at London South Bank University.

I was also a non-executive director for the National Patient Safety Agency. I'm now a self-employed independent nurse consultant helping organisations with issues including strategy, vision and revalidation.

Finding out about the role

I was approached directly via LinkedIn about becoming a specialist advisor as part of CQC hospital inspection teams. Having worked in regulation in previous posts, I was obviously already familiar with CQC.

But what particularly appealed was the prospect of focusing on care. During my career I'd held big jobs that had taken me far from the coalface, and I'd missed that side of things.

My role during inspections

Inspection teams are split into sub teams, and my place is usually on the trust-wide team which looks at the overall performance of the organisation.

Because I've worked at executive level I often interview the chief executive or the finance director, plus the director of nursing.

Joining the dots

At the end of the first day of every inspection, there can be so much to take in that your head feels it's full of mashed potato!

But by the second evening you start to get a picture of what's going on. It's a bit like being a detective – there's lots of reading between the lines and getting under the skin of an organisation.

Working as a team

I didn't know what to expect for my first inspection in November 2014, but I was pleasantly surprised by CQC staff's warm welcome – and how well the teams get on together.

Everyone's there with the same mentality, which fosters a real team spirit. We all want to do the right thing by patients and put out a report that the trust can act on to improve things for those patients.

Attracting experienced advisors

I've enjoyed meeting other specialist advisors with a similar level of experience as me – self-employed as well as retired or towards the end of their full-time career.

It'd be great to attract more people like us. Not only do we have more time and experience, but I feel we tend to be freer in our thinking and so have a lot to offer.

Picking up on common themes

I've been on eight inspections so far, and have noticed some common themes including: a lack of focus on HR management, recruitment and CPD. The quality of corporate risk registers and using them as a 'live' tool also seems to be a common problem.

There are bound to be other themes specialist advisors pick up on, and it'd be interesting to be able to evaluate our experiences over a period of time.

This learning could be turned into information sent out annually to trusts and providers. It might help them see a bigger picture, and pick up on issues before they become problems.

Recommended for senior NHS staff

If I was still working as a director of nursing in the NHS, I'd make it my business to become a CQC specialist advisor.

It'd be a way to take so much learning back to my own organisation, particularly about how to prepare for inspections.

Some of it is simple, yet still so powerful. For example, I've had an insight into the way senior staff can present risk – and how CQC views this.

I'd love to see more trusts starting inspections by telling us the top 10 things they're worried about. That way, we'd know they have an insight into any problems and are taking steps to deal with them.

But the common model throughout the NHS is for them to portray everything as perfect, minimising any difficulties. Trouble is, within the first hour of any inspection I can usually identify 30 things that could be done better!

What I've gained from this role

Being able to raise issues, get them into a report and then an action plan so they stand a chance of getting dealt with is a chance to make a real difference. All the semi-retired specialist advisors I've worked with would say the same thing.

It's a privilege to be entrusted with inspecting hospitals on behalf of my profession, and also for patients. I really feel that this work has rekindled my love for hospitals, nursing and patient care."

Last updated:
29 May 2017


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