An immigrant in the NHS | Dr Navina Evans

Navina Evans

The head of East London NHS Foundation Trust reflects on her leadership journey and why she cherishes playing a role in one of the UK's most loved institutions.

I grew up among Anglophiles in a Commonwealth country. During my formative years, I was taught about altruism. I learnt that those of us who were fortunate enough, by accident of birth, to have opportunities to gain status, power and wealth must support those who did not share in such good fortune.

It was in my early adult life that I was introduced to the concept of the National Health Service. I was drawn to the idea that good health is a basic right which should be available to everyone. ‘Comprehensive. Universal. Free at the point of delivery.’ These words defined a sophisticated and civilised society. They still do.

Over the years, I have benefited from care and treatment in the NHS. I have also had a fulfilling and rewarding career as a clinician, a manager and a leader in the NHS. I’ve had many opportunities for learning and personal development, which continue to this day. And like many of my 1.5 million colleagues, I cherish the chance to contribute to my adopted country.

Today, as an immigrant, I find myself in the highly privileged position of chief executive in the NHS. This is an incredible time to be part of the history of the NHS in its 70th year. I am proud to join a group of CEOs who have been given the honour to shape and take care of something as precious as our health service.

We have a huge responsibility to the communities we serve. We have a duty to staff and colleagues who put their trust in us as leaders. We must look after them and create the conditions for them to do the right thing.

It seems that to be effective CEOs, we will increasingly have to make difficult decisions and take personal risk, prioritising the needs of others over our own. These are testing times. I remember being told recently: “there is no room for cynicism and pessimism if you are going to make this work.” I was told to ask myself if I was up to this challenge.

I believe that I am up to the challenge and I hope that my fellow CEOs are too. However, I know that I must be vigilant, continuously examining my leadership behaviour is fit for purpose for the changing tasks in hand. My job is to help generate and maintain hope, to deliver improved experience, improved outcomes and better value under many different conditions.

As an immigrant, I am proud to have this amazing chance to make a small contribution towards doing something truly meaningful for healthcare in this country.

Dr Navina Evans is chief executive of East London NHS Foundation Trust. Follow her and the trust on Twitter @NavinaEvans @NHS_ELFT

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