From admin clerk to chief executive: new boss at the helm of Wigan's hospitals

A familiar face has taken the reins at Wigan’s hospitals trust – and she has big plans for its future.
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Mary Fleming has started work as chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL), following the departure of Silas Nicholls.

She has worked for the NHS for 27 years, having previously been employed in the private sector.

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Mary Fleming has been appointed as chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation TrustMary Fleming has been appointed as chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Mary Fleming has been appointed as chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
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Ms Fleming said: "My dad died very young – he was 55 years old – and I took stock of my life. I had two children and hadn’t spent much time with them.

"My mum was a nurse at Bolton in the NHS and said why didn’t I go to work in the NHS, because I could make a difference. I said I would think about it.

"I started my career in the NHS 27 years ago as a band three admin clerk in radiology at Bolton. I slowly progressed through the ranks.”

Ms Fleming did various roles, including spending time in Yorkshire, before she joined WWL 16 years ago as lead for specialist surgery within ear, nose and throat, ophthalmology and oral surgery.

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She was appointed to the board eight years ago as chief operating officer.

Ms Fleming was encouraged to consider becoming a chief executive by her predecessor Andrew Foster, which led to her applying for the post of deputy chief executive.

It provided an opportunity to lead the staff engagement programme, which had “really good results” and saw more employees responding to the NHS Staff Survey.

Ms Fleming was elected to the Greater Manchester Chief Operating Officers and became joint-chairman of Wigan Integrated Delivery Board, which saw her work with partners across the health, social care and voluntary sector.

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When Mr Nicholls announced he was stepping down, Ms Fleming was appointed as interim chief executive, before securing the substantive role.

Ms Fleming, who grew up in Bolton and now lives in Darwen, was delighted to secure her “dream job”.

She said: “It was absolutely amazing, I was so pleased.

"I have a real, deep connection with the borough of Wigan, especially through the integrated delivery board. I come from a working-class background. My mum died a year ago and I sold the council house my parents bought, that she lived in until she died. I really do have a deep connection with Wigan people.”

Ms Fleming is now settling into her new role and has big plans for the trust’s future.

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She said: “I am a highly visible leader within the organisation and people know me, but they don’t know me in the chief exec role. I have said, over the next few weeks and months, I am going back out there and meeting with the staff and talking about my vision.

"I have at least a five-year plan. In five years’ time, I would like to take this organisation to outstanding. I don’t mean outstanding by CQC standards, I mean by our standards.

"To me, an outstanding organisation has good partnership working. I have a really good partnership with the chief executive of the local authority and we are fully committed to really integrating health and social care.

"I think another attribute of an outstanding organisation is to have a really good culture and that grows from the staff engagement strategy that I led on. We are doing a reset of our values now, so that kindness and compassion and inclusive leadership is the key.”

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She wants to see continuous improvement within the trust, inspired by Mr Foster.

She said: “I believe that we can continuously improve, despite all the operational and financial pressures that go on. That’s Andrew Foster’s legacy. He spearheaded the continuous improvement Go Engage strategy, which developed hundreds of quality champions in this organisation, which is still going.”

She wants the trust to gain university hospitals status through its partnership with Edge Hill University, hopefully within two to four years. Edge Hill is working towards accreditation as a medical university, while WWL is developing its research portfolio.

She said: “Edge Hill’s focus is on making sure that people from different backgrounds get the chance to go through medical school and become doctors. I think that’s brilliant, because it means, as an anchor institution, we are investing in the people of our local community and giving them opportunities they might not have had if they had gone down a traditional red-brick university avenue.”

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Ms Fleming’s immediate priorities include working with partners to deliver “a large-scale transformation programme that will address some of the urgent and emergency care pressures”.

She wants to see people “being treated in the right place, at the right time and having the right outcomes”, so wants more services integrated through work with other organisations.

This could see specialist surgeons from other parts of Greater Manchester treating patients in Wigan.

Ms Fleming wants to use Leigh Infirmary as an elective treatment centre, alongside Wrightington Hospital, to improve waiting times and ensure operations are not cancelled due to demand for emergency care.

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There are also plans for more partnership working with Royal Bolton Hospital, such as sharing back-office functions and doing more work together at Leigh Infirmary.

Ms Fleming is also looking at Wigan’s ageing population to see what services are needed to meet their needs, which includes a programme of work offering different support for frailty.

She certainly has a busy time ahead, but will be backed by WWL’s army of staff.

"I want to thank all the staff across WWL, regardless of where they work and what they do, because I think they are amazing,” she said.

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"I also want to thank all of our partners across the Wigan locality – in primary care, in the voluntary sector, in social care, our mental health partners, Healthwatch – because without them and this great partnership working, we wouldn’t be where we are now and we definitely wouldn’t be where we want to get to.”

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