Intended for healthcare professionals


The world class talent signing for team NHS

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 01 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1036
  1. Tom Moberly, UK editor, The BMJ
  1. tmoberly{at}

In the past two years, three of the UK’s leading hospital trusts have appointed candidates from overseas to be their chief executives. Tom Moberly looks at what these international recruits are bringing to the NHS

What links the leading acute trusts, University College London Hospitals, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Oxford University Hospitals? Answer: they have all appointed their chief executives from overseas. Marcel Levi, from the Netherlands, is newly installed at UCLH; Peter Steer, from Australia, has joined Great Ormond Street; and Bruno Holthof, from Belgium, runs the Oxford trust.

That UK hospital trusts are buying in management talent from abroad isn’t new. Keith McNeil came from Australia to run Addenbrooke’s Hospital in 2012, Tracey Batten, also from Australia, joined Imperial College Healthcare in 2014, and Robert Bell, longtime chief at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, hails from Canada.

But Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, identifies a recent rise in the number of international chief executives recruited to NHS trusts. “The calibre of the people they are appointing is very impressive,” he says. “And it is undoubtedly useful to have people who bring new perspectives and who may be less hidebound by the NHS way of thinking.” Edwards says the fact the NHS has found it necessary to recruit from abroad points to a lack of suitable UK candidates. “There is an increasing difficulty among large trusts in finding people willing to take on these big roles, which might explain why some organisations have gone for international recruitment.” However, he adds: “This is relatively new, but there is not enough of this to call it a trend,” he says.

Tough space

Steer says that part of the problem in attracting UK talent to chief executive roles is the demands inherent in these roles.

“We've …

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