Harrogate hospital CEO: ‘I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worried about work’
Last updated Feb 26, 2024
Jonathan Coulter.

In the second part of our feature length interview with Jonathan Coulter, chief executive at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, he talks RAAC, Ripon Community Hospital and how he handles stress. Read the first instalment here.

Aside from dealing with industrial action and the trust’s finances, Mr Coulter’s position also comes with responsibility for the hospital estate.

In September last year, the trust confirmed that its roof contained reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

The material, popular between the 1960s and 1980s, was compared to “chocolate Aero” and made headlines after it was found in public buildings across the UK.

When asked if he was surprised to find the material on the hospital estate, Mr Coulter said:

“It became an issue a few years ago, about three or four years ago.

“Was it a surprise? Well, we built it with that and I guess some of the concerns about the safety and the stability of the RAAC was the thing that came out.

“Once we got that information, we then surveyed the site and identified areas where we have got RAAC in terms of the panels and put in place the steps to manage that.”

The hospital bid for £20 million from government to help eradicate RAAC across the hospital site as part of a trust-wide project.

The therapy services building at Harrogate District Hospital, which is set to be demolished

So far, it has received £2 million which will go towards helping to demolish the therapy services department by creating offices to relocate staff to.

Mr Coulter says the trust is currently awaiting confirmation on £9 million worth of funding, which will be used to hire contractors to flatten the building.

Ripon is still valued

The projects at the trust extend beyond Harrogate.

Ripon Community Hospital is due to open a new community diagnostics centre in April.

The project came as part of £1 million worth of funding from NHS England and means GPs will be able to refer more patients to the hospital for life-saving checks closer to home and be diagnosed for a range of conditions.

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Despite the major projects in Harrogate, Mr Coulter says Ripon is still valued and that there are wider conversations with the primary care sector about how to make healthcare services more accessible in the city.

“It is absolutely something that we value as part of being in the middle of that community and the services that we need to provide there.

“We are gradually investing in bits of it in terms of diagnostics and maternity services. But, the bigger picture which might take quite a long time is to think how do we provide healthcare services in Ripon for the longer term. That includes primary care and that’s a much bigger conversation to have.”

‘I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worried about it’

Mr Coulter never saw himself becoming chief executive of Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.

Rather, the opportunity presented itself to him in February 2022 and he took it.

The result of taking that chance has seen matters such as NHS strikes, RAAC, a multi-million deficit and an array of hospital projects come across his desk.

Does he find it stressful?

“No, it’s not stressful.

“It’s really important and it’s really important that we do well. There’s a lot to think about all of the time. But, if you have got a really good team and really good people working in the organisation, that’s how you manage it.

“We can only do so much and it’s really important. You’re accountable and responsible for a lot, but you have got to be of a personality that can allow others to manage that for you and do things for you.

“I understand why people would say it’s really stressful. But, on a personal level, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worried about it. I’m worried when I’m here in a good way in terms of making sure we do the right things.”