Radio Ombudsman: Claire Murdoch on driving improvements in NHS mental health care

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Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

My latest guest on Radio Ombudsman is Claire Murdoch, Chief Executive of the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Foundation Trust, and National Director for Mental Health at NHS England. Claire is regarded as one of the most influential people in the NHS by the Health Service Journal.

Claire’s journey from mental health nurse to national leader in mental health care is an inspiring one. It was clear from our discussion that she has lived through a revolution in the provision of mental health care in this country. 

Claire spoke about how this has shaped her professionally and gave her a unique perspective on the current changes that are underway.

“Two worlds colliding”

Claire explained how her modest upbringing instilled in her a strong commitment to hard work and a sense of duty to others, particularly the most vulnerable.

Claire started working as a mental health nurse at the age of 23. She described the early days of her training as feeling like “two worlds colliding” as mental health care moved from institutions into the community:

“It felt like we were standing on the brink of a new era, an end of the Victorian era of healthcare.”

Claire then worked as a ward sister and matron, before moving on to bigger leadership roles including Director of Nursing at the Brent, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust.

She believes that the future of care will be patient-led:

“We’ve come a long way in 35 years. We now need to move much faster to make the sorts of improvements that your insight reports have rightly pointed to.”

Turning our insight into action

I was encouraged to hear Claire talk about the positive impact of our reports on NHS mental healthcare provision. Although critical, they highlighted where improvements needed to be made. Claire explained that they were difficult but necessary reading.

Speaking with enthusiasm about how these reports have prompted action, Claire gave me an update on the taskforce that was set up after we published our report on how NHS eating disorder services are failing patients

We also discussed how the NHS is addressing issues raised in our Maintaining momentum report, to achieve the ambitious vision set out in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. Claire is “cautiously optimistic” about long-term plans after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £2 billion increase in mental healthcare funding over the next five years.

Claire also updated me on plans to grow, retain and support the NHS mental health workforce. She also hopes to bring many more people with lived experience into the workforce she says:  

“…to bring patient rights, patient experience, and patient choice, right into the A&E departments, the acute wards, the community teams”.

Career advice

Claire is the ideal interviewee to ask for career tips for people starting out in the sector. Her response is a refreshingly honest rallying call:

“I’ve considered it the biggest privilege ever to have had 35 years of working in the NHS. No two days are the same – undeniably some tough points, of course. You need to build resilience, but my strong advice would be, do it. Come and work in the NHS. You’ll do something that’s worthwhile.”

Listen now

You can also read the transcript for this podcast or download a pdf (306KB)

Future podcasts

Our next podcast guest will be National Guardian Dr Henrietta Hughes. Subscribe on Soundcloud or iTunes for latest updates.