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Simon Stevens’ Christmas Diary

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Simon Stevens’ Christmas Diary

Last time we got an exclusive peek into the personal life of the country’s most important Simon, it was to follow him on an exciting family holiday to Great Yarmouth. In this second instalment, we find the chief executive of NHS England under mounting pressure in the run-up to Christmas.


I’m getting annoyed about the huge pile of documents that threatens to engulf my office table. I’m beginning to wish I’d never agreed to read everything before it went out. The NHS produces enough guff every week to power a small town. I make an early resolution to clear the backlog of paperwork before the new year. I briefly consider bringing back Gateway. Then I have a much better idea.


Trying to think what to put in Jim’s Christmas card. Fetch Enright, who’s got a way with words. He doesn’t think much of my jocular first draft: “Sod off back oop north and good riddance”. He’s probably right: Jim’s a bit touchy about his ethnic roots.

I leave it to Enright. Frankly don’t care what he puts. Jim got increasingly stroppy at the end. He was very sweary at his leaving do, telling us we were all soft, couldn’t manage a knees-up in a bottling plant and no wonder Spreadsheet Phil and HMT were disappointed with our constant demands for money. Then he staggered off into the night in nothing but his shirtsleeves looking for some trust finance directors for a punch-up.

Enright finally comes back with a shortlist of suggestions. We settle on “Merry Christmas”. Enright’s bloody good.


Invitation arrives for the chief medical officer's ghastly New Year’s Eve party. Briefly consider telling Dame Sally I’ve taken up smoking to get out of it.

I was trapped in the kitchen for hours last year getting a lecture on anti-microbial resistance from some prof at Public Health England who smelt strongly of seaweed and humbugs.

If we must go I’ll tell Maggie to pack a couple of sandwiches and some peanuts. All we usually get is gluten-free spinach tartlets and a glass of the CMO's homemade alcohol-free amontillado.

No point trying to smuggle in any booze though. Good old Hopson spiked the Five a Day Fruit Punch last time, but the health police will be ready for him this year.

I should have kept the beard. Dame Sal always steered well clear of it, claiming it harboured germs and posed a high risk of infection. Thought she was joking, but apparently she never does.


Sixth Floor five a side footy has been cancelled this afternoon so we can have Secret Santa. Don’t need another pencil sharpener or stapler so must try and avoid Dodger’s gifts. His are always small and tightly wrapped in photocopier paper. Easy to spot.

Got Matthew an IT joke book. He’ll pretend to find it funny, but it won’t contain as many laughs as his IT strategy placemat.

Facilities will be turning the heating down soon, so must remember to send Tom down to the fifth floor with flasks of soup and extra blankets for the non-execs. Don’t want them waking up in a bad mood before the January board meeting.


Off for a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping. Don’t know why it always creeps up on me. Really need to plan it all a bit better next year.

Browsing in the lingerie department at M&S, I suddenly feel gloomy. Time’s running out for the Five Year Forward View. This time next year we’ll be in year five. Will that be long enough to rebrand all the old vanguards as accountable care systems? What if someone asks where all the transformation money’s gone? I make a mental note to avoid HSJ interviews until Enright’s come up with something plausible. Could be a long wait.

Still, as they say at this time of year, it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps we should give it some. I start to cheer up as I come up with a great idea for another refresh of the FYFV, a sequel to Next Steps, which we could call Further Steps. That’s pretty good. I’m excited to tell Enright.

Find a small office and sit down so I can make a few notes before I forget.

I’m still deep in thought when I hear a woman shouting and feel a large hand on my shoulder. It belongs to an angry, red-faced man who could be one of Jim’s relatives but claims to be from security. I try to explain that I’m just looking for a new support chassis for Maggie and must have wandered into the female changing rooms by accident.

Not in the best of moods as I’m ejected from M&S. I’ve scarcely walked ten yards before a scruffy looking fellow sitting in a shop doorway engages me in conversation. Nice chap. We discover that we have a mutual interest in change. I tell him I’m committed to it. So apparently is he.   

He is collecting money for an alcohol related community charity. He looks cross when I explain that there is no more money, but after a brief discussion about funding and winter pressures, I leave him with a modest cash donation and a small mince pie.


Get up early to take delivery of a load of eco-friendly brickettes. They come on a surprisingly large lorry. The driver moans about the journey from Elephant & Castle. I examine one of the bricks. The words “draft guidance” are just visible. Others contain a faint imprint of the NHS logo and fragments of text. They look as if they’ll burn nicely.

I tip the driver and tell him to stack them in the garage taking care not to scratch the Volvo.

Later, we gather round a blazing fire to roast chestnuts and drink a toast to my new clean desk policy. I’m beginning to feel better about next year already.  

Diary editor: Julian Patterson


julie upton
julie upton says:
Dec 22, 2017 08:52 AM

Happy Christmas Julian and thank you, your insightful and hilarious view on this crazy system we all work is just what I need at the end of the week.
Right, I'm off to double check that our Christmas jumpers are in line with the 'festive season guidance' that's been issued, oh sorry, change of plan I'll have to go to the 'Silver command' meeting, we are on black alert....

Merry Christmas everyone
Merry Christmas everyone

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Dec 22, 2017 10:54 AM

Marry Christmas, Julie. I hope you have time to adopt and implement the jumper before the fun starts. See you next year.

pam enderby
pam enderby says:
Dec 22, 2017 12:42 PM

Happy Christmas to you all--- the weekly contribution keeps many of us going!! Sometimes it is too close to the truth but at least we don't feel alone in this view!

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Dec 22, 2017 01:01 PM

Happy Christmas to you too, Pam. I'm glad to play a part in boosting morale, however modest.