Valerie Watts is a confident and articulate new head of the NHS in Northern Ireland who brings an outsider’s perspective to an organisation which will require significant change as it faces increasing constraints on its spending over coming years.
But the former chief executive of Aberdeen City Council is going to face a significant challenge in communicating what are likely to be radical changes to healthcare in Northern Ireland.
In her 50-minute interview with the News Letter (much longer than some other senior public figures would permit), Ms Watts often spoke the language of a management consultant.
At one point, responding to a question about what is wrong with A&E departments in Northern Ireland, Ms Watts talked about various barriers to moving patients on from emergency departments, before eventually saying: “It’s like business process re-engineering in my book. That’s how I would best describe it.”
Such jargon is unlikely to be understood by more than a handful of those who use the NHS in the Province.
Sir Liam Donaldson’s recent report into the NHS in Northern Ireland was critical of politicians, the media and the public for a culture where when a small health facility is to be closed there is immediately a campaign to save it – even if there is clear evidence that lives could be saved by moving services to a larger, more specialised facility.
But if that message is to be communicated to a sceptical public it requires straight-talking from those at the top of the NHS – in particular, the health minister and Ms Watts.
Eventually, Ms Watts did come out and say that she wants to see fewer hospitals in Northern Ireland, but with the remaining hospitals becoming larger and more specialised.
Facing a shrinking budget in real terms, the likely closure of smaller hospitals across Northern Ireland and health unions which are sounding more militant, Ms Watts has arrived at a busy time.