The Birmingham Magazine: interview with Dr Jane Collins
As Chief Executive of both Great Ormond Street Hospital and the charity that fundraises for it, Dr Jane Collins is ultimately responsible for raising millions of pounds and overseeing care during 175,000 patient visits annually.
‘It’s a great privilege to lead a hospital like this but it’s also a major responsibility because families have huge expectations when they come to Great Ormond Street. I have to ensure we live up to these expectations when we can and are open and honest when we can’t,’ she says.
Established in 1852 by Dr Charles West in reaction to the high rates of infant mortality in London, Great Ormond Street had only ten beds when it first opened. Today it is an international centre of excellence in child healthcare dedicated to finding new and better ways to treat childhood illnesses.
Jane became Chief Executive in 2001. During her tenure she has seen the hospital’s turnover grow from £132 million in 2000–01 to £336 million in 2010–11 and is currently supervising the refurbishment of two- thirds of its estate to improve facilities for patients, parents and staff.
‘I don’t get out from behind my desk as much as I would like to but when I do, I really enjoy talking to families and to children,’ she says. ‘I made the choice to become Chief Executive because I felt I could make more of a difference in this role than seeing patients and hopefully I’ve done that. Over recent years my focus has been on patient safety and we are explicitly aiming for Zero Harm to patients, ensuring all children and their families are safe. I haven’t missed clinical work, funnily enough. There’s not a lot of time to miss clinical work; I think it’s partly my personality and partly there are so many things you need to do as Chief Exec.’
It was while studying medicine at Birmingham that Jane was inspired to go into paediatrics, particularly after working with kidney specialist Dr Dick White during a placement at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. ‘I just decided it was more interesting than anything else I’d done,’ she says. The Children’s Hospital obviously had a long-term influence on other alumni too, as a number of Jane’s contemporaries went into paediatrics and several are consultants at Great Ormond Street. ‘I remember the Medical School as a very happy place and believe working with numerous academics and clinicians, completing placements at several different hospitals, and treating all sorts of illnesses and diseases gave me a broad grounding for my career,’ she says.
A highlight of her first year was visiting a coal mine to understand what life was like for people working in heavy industry. ‘That was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It hasn’t been topped as it was just an extraordinary experience and a great privilege,’ she says. Jane believes there is currently a shortage of doctors going into paediatrics because the area is seen as hard work, and her advice to current medical students hoping to become paediatricians is to grasp the opportunity. ’It is hard work, and it’s often challenging, but for the right person it’s extraordinarily rewarding. If we don’t sort out the health of sick children then we increase the burden of illness throughout life so it’s incredibly important,’ she says.
Great Ormond Street is famous for its child health research, and gene therapy has been just one groundbreaking area. In 2010 doctors were able to use stem cells to replace a child’s trachea and earlier this year they identified a new way to help treat boys with muscular dystrophy by overcoming problems with the gene that creates dystrophin (part of muscle). ‘Our research into more unusual conditions attracts attention but from the point of view of children and families some of the work we’ve done on pain research will make more of a difference,’ Jane says. The hospital is also renowned for its successful fundraising, and Jane describes leading the charity as the fun part of her dual role as she meets so many interesting people. ‘I’ve been kissed by Johnny Depp three times and you can’t underestimate the niceness of that but, joking aside, the charity’s objectives are to benefit Great Ormond Street children so the two things are absolutely interlinked,’ she says.
Current challenges for Great Ormond Street include applying for Foundation Trust status, so it can retain its independence and become a membership organisation, and developing a new building for translational research to ensure findings benefit patients more quickly.
A decade is a long spell for an NHS hospital Chief Executive and Jane is unsure when she will leave. ‘It’s hard to see how being Chief Executive of another hospital could be any better than this because, although we’re not the largest hospital, the combination is hard to beat,’ she says. ‘The most rewarding part of my day is actually doing something that you know will make a difference to children and their families. Clearly as a Chief Exec one does spend a lot of time worrying about money and savings but the only purpose of money is to enable us to do the best we can for children.’
Learn more about Great Ormond Street at www.gosh.nhs.uk and www.gosh.org.
Dr Jane Collins at a glance
Career: Trained as a paediatric neurologist. Consultant paediatric neurologist at Guy’s Hospital in London for four years before moving to Great Ormond Street. Served on the hospital’s management board as Clinical Director responsible for Medicine and Urology before appointment as Chief Executive and held a Trust Board role as Director of Clinical Services
Family: Jane is married with two children aged 23 and 21
Interests: Gardening, the theatre and sustainability (she has been working to make
Great Ormond Street more eco-friendly)
Did you know? Author J M Barrie donated the copyright of his much-loved children’s story Peter Pan to the hospital