Lamb sets sights on service which put patients at its heart

The new chief executive of the NHS in Scotland wants to build on digital successes


It’s been something of a meteoric rise for Caroline Lamb, with a fast ascent mostly achieved during lockdown. While it’s remiss to say anyone’s having a good pan- demic, for the new chief execu- tive of the NHS in Scotland, her star has shone brightly during the Covid-19 crisis. Formerly head of NHS Edu-

cation for Scotland, Lamb was installed as director of digital reform and service engagement in the twin health and social care directorates at the Scottish Government in 2019. And as the coronavirus hit last year, she was redeployed to oversee the Test and Protect programme, and more re- cently the rollout of the vaccina- tion programme, which is into its stride after a faltering start. With her latest appointment in

January, she has landed the most high-profile public sector job in Scotland, one that is divided be- tween the NHS, where she has an operational focus, and as director general of health and social care within government, where she advises ministers on policy and strategy. She must be a glutton for punishment, I quip, as we connect on a Teams chat. “Or was I just sitting in the wrong place?,”

she says. “Maybe it was, ‘Oh, we need someone to do this, I know, Caroline can do it!’” She adds: “But I’m really ex-

cited about it. People have said to me, ‘Gosh this must be the worst time ever to come into this job’. Well, no it’s not actually. Yes, we are still managing a pandemic but I have been at the heart of that for 12 months, so it’s sort of like busi- ness as usual.” It’s a very much sleeves rolled

up, no nonsense, let’s get on with the job, kind of answer but before we talk about the kind of leader- ship she wants to bring to an organisation with a £15bn budget and 140,000 staff, she empha- sises her gratitude for a worn-out workforce. She says: “People are tired and

we have a huge backlog of annual leave that hasn’t been taken be- cause of their commitment to the service and I’m hugely grateful to all of them. But we need to give people time to decompress and recover because we can’t keep running as fast as we have been doing.” In terms of her vision for the

organisation, it’s little surprise that she seems to want to take things slowly. Tere will be a time for laying out grand plans but for now, she wants to set a course for getting through Covid. “We are not out of that yet,”

she stresses. “We are going to need to retain a very strong Test and Protect function, we need to continue with the vaccination programme, but also there’s the planning about probably having to get into delivering booster vaccinations once we get into

Caroline Lamb, chief executive of NHS Scotland and director general for health and social care at the Scottish Government

the autumn. Tis is a vaccina- tion programme that we expect to continue for some time, so we are going to have to maintain that whole response to the pandemic.” She adds: “At the same time we

have to recognise the harm that is being done by the pandemic and that is to the people’s health and wellbeing, in terms of those people who are on waiting lists, and those people who haven’t pre- sented because of their concerns going through the pandemic. “So there’s a huge backlog there

that we need to start to tackle. And at the same time I think we’ve got the opportunity to rethink how we build back our health and care

services; for me some of those principles at the centre of that is about involving people in how we design and re-design the services that they receive.” Lamb welcomes the recently

published Feeley Report into adult social care, in terms of what needs improving – and how – in often forgotten parts of the system. It has been well received in government, and its focus on delivering person-centred care sits well with her enthusiasm for digital technology, which has brought substantial benefits to many during lockdown. “I am passionate about what

digital can bring to improve health and care services, enabling people to get more access and make choic- es about how they use services,”

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