Rose Stephens OBE, former Chief Nurse and Deputy Chief Executive of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, studied at Bradford College in the 1980s.
Born in County Mayo in Ireland, Rose trained as a nurse in Leeds and has lived there ever since.
“I went to work in Harrogate in 1981 and while there I joined the CMS (Certificate in Management Studies) course at Bradford College. I met people working for the NHS in Bradford there who became longstanding friends, and one of these played a pivotal role in the development of my career. She suggested I apply for a more senior post as Night Manager in Bradford which I subsequently got. I never would have come to Bradford otherwise. I later returned to Leeds, holding senior posts at St James’ Hospital until I came back to Bradford as Chief Nurse to the new Teaching Trust (formed by combining BRI and St Luke’s) in 1993. This move was again made at the prompting of the friends I had made back on the CMS.
During that time I continued to study. Although I was working in Leeds, I came back to Bradford College to study my Management Studies Diploma (DMS) as I loved the people and liked the whole attitude of ‘don’t worry – we can do it.’ I was always hopeless at maths and I remember my tutor, Clive du Pré sat with me to do statistics until what I was meant to do clicked. Bradford College was just a natural choice as tutors and admin staff were really helpful. Nothing was a problem. There was just a ‘can-do’ attitude that instilled confidence.
I consider myself to have been a good nurse but from the start I was fascinated by management. I didn’t just want to manage nurses but all the people who delivered care. In those days general management was just coming into the NHS, which in some ways was quite different in the way that people were stereotyped and we had to get over those barriers. Without my additional qualifications I could not have progressed. Competency was not enough and having a professional qualification was enormously helpful. It allowed me to relate to all professionals. As a ward sister I was very aware that I was a general manager co-ordinating a team a doctors, physiotherapists et cetera. I then did a degree part-time at Bradford University, followed by a Masters in Health Service Studies at Leeds. I fit study into a demanding job by going to work, attending class and then going back to work to make sure everything was ok before I went home. Part-time study meant that I could translate theory into practice.
Relationships were another important benefit of my studies. Oxana Wolstenholme, who I met on the CMS course, was the friend who rang up about the job at St Luke’s and our friendship was cemented when we worked together. She later told me about the Chief Nurse vacancy and then worked really closely with me as my Head of Nursing and Midwifery.” During this period Rose encountered one of Bradford College’s most illustrious alumni, albeit at a distance. “When one of my predecessors, John Sharp, retired we organised a This Is Your Life style tribute. I wrote to David Hockney, who had worked as a ward orderly in dermatology and he sent a telegram from Los Angeles.”
Rose faced one of her greatest career challenges in the early days of the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “We were one of the first wave trusts, given Foundation Trust status in 1994, but we ran into financial difficulties. This led to the other board members leaving and in 1994/5 I became acting Chief Executive for six months. Every day there were negative stories in the press and I had 5000 staff to motivate. I had to keep reinforcing to them that we provided excellent clinical services and that it was just that the finances weren’t quite right.
I was always interested in nurses. It annoys me when people say nurses need to be dedicated. They need to enjoy what they do. As nurses you need to recognise that you are in a privileged position. You are caring for people in their most vulnerable state. To be able to help people emotionally and physically, just doing the little things well, supporting relatives or making their last days as comfortable as possible, is enormously important. Whatever I was doing in management and whatever decisions I was making, at the centre of my thoughts was the patient. As a nurse I had a better perspective as a manager. I had been in the clinical situation and so I was aware of patient requirements and I was used to having detailed discussions with clinical and medical staff. To be a good manager you need to know your service. High flying qualifications are not enough if you do not understand the service, what you are trying to achieve and people’s roles.
People have been extraordinarily kind and seen me as a role model. When I was Director of Hospital Services, in effect the internal manager of the hospitals, I invested time, effort and energy in spotting bright people and bringing them on. I didn’t suffer fools though! We had a massive training programme including rolling out all the NVQ levels across porters, medical records clerks, pharmacy staff et cetera and tackled issues around customer care. I was a member of the University court, working closely with the Dean and tutors in developing courses and widening access. Every year I used to nominate people for awards as I felt it was important to recognise people and what they do. In December 2008 I received the OBE from Prince Charles, which was wonderful.”
Rose retired in March 2008 after having spent her forty years working at hospitals in West Yorkshire but continues learning and being involved in local affairs. “I had always planned to retire at 55, but as I was the only remaining board member with a new team I worked longer than I intended. Retirement was right for me personally though I was very sad to leave staff who had become like an extended family.” Her commitment to part-time study has continued unabated and she is about to embark on the final year of her part-time law degree. She also serves as a JP in Leeds.