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Thought Leaders Interviews

Mike Farrar CBE

Talk us through your career path to date: 

I was a failed sportsman that fell into the NHS working in health promotion and addiction services. I worked my way up the NHS management ladder including doing 6 years on secondment to the Department of Health where I led mental health and primary care services, prior to being appointed as the CEO of Tees Health Authority aged 39. I then led 4 different Strategic Health Authorities over the next 11 years, the last if which was the North West SHA, the second biggest in the country. Before ultimately being appointed as the CEO of the NHS Confederation 2011-13. At that point I chose to leave the NHS and build my own consulting practice which I have run successfully for over ten years (I’m now on my second business having sold my original one in 2019). I have a long parallel career in other sectors namely sports, where I have chaired Sport England, Swim England and ukactive; and in education where I am currently the Chair and Pro Chancellor of Keele University.

Why healthcare? 

Healthcare matters! I realised this quite early when having failed to be good enough to play professional sport, I went into retail as a graduate management trainee for Grand Metropolitan, selling beer in South Yorkshire. At that stage I realised that I wanted to do something more useful to society and the NHS gave me the opportunity in bucket loads to do that! 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Think hard about what matters to you, both at work and at home… need to balance these….. Also always be kind! It’s a philosophy I have tread really hard to achieve at work, even when I’ve had to do tough things like moving people on etc… but it is possible and it makes a huge difference to how much you can look yourself in the eyes later on in your career and think I did ok! 

What’s your proudest achievement? 

I have been privileged to have had many opportunities to do significant work but I think designing and successfully negotiating the 2002 new GP contract including the Quality and Outcomes Framework would be one of the greatest. Chairing Sport England and being appointed the National Tsar for Sport and Health would be another. 

What healthcare innovations are you most excited about? 

The breakthrough now is all about data….. and if we are able to harness the ability to use data at scale we can face up to the challenges of demand exceeding supply in the current NHS and care system. So I am a huge fan of population health management data systems such as Interpreta (used by the Centene Corporation) which has so much promise for the future. Its greater strength is giving us the ability of matching resources to need and tackling health inequalities. 

In an ideal world with unlimited resources, what one thing would transform healthcare? 

I guess I’ve mentioned data already but in reality it I would actually offer a slightly different thought in that it’s the potential of ourselves as people to engage with our own health that will make the changes we need. Just look at the evidence from the ‘Wigan Deal’ where citizens were empowered to stay healthy and manage their own health problems. This is the kind of thing that will transform health and health care in turn.

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