Meet the boss of Manchester's Christie Hospital (with audio)

PUBLISHED: 13:44 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:01 20 February 2013

Building work is underway to extend the hospital's facilities

Building work is underway to extend the hospital's facilities

The Hale-based boss of Manchester's Christie Hospital has made a meteoric rise from midwife to chief executive, as Paul Mackenzie reports

A nurse who handed a seven-year-old girl a chip butty in the garden of Manchester's Christie Hospital in the mid-1970s did more than just feed her. She gave the child an impression of the caring and thoughtful atmosphere which pervades the corridors and wards of the famous hospital.

That child is now the hospital's chief executive and she is still touched by the ethos of the place.

'I was here with my mum visiting my gran and my mum sent me to sit in the garden while they talked. What that nurse did was indicative of the family-friendly feeling there still is all over this hospital.' Caroline Shaw, who is now into her fifth award-laden year at the helm of the north west's biggest cancer hospital is originally from Kendal and started her career as a midwife, working with new mums in Blackpool and Leicester before moving into management.

'I was pretty radical in wanting to make a difference, and quite vocal, so I tended to get noticed,' Caroline said. 'I was noticed by the chief executive when I was working in Leicester and I realised I would have to move into management to influence a wider population.

'I became know as a turn-around queen. I would go in where results weren't very good and would review services and improve results.
'My dad had MS and when he died in the late 1990s I wanted to move closer to the Lake District. A job came up at Wythenshawe and I got that and four years later I was offered the post here.'

But although the 43-year-old mother-of two has had a meteoric rise from the ward to the board, she retains a close link with the people on the front line.

As we walk the corridors to her office she greets every member of staff she passes by name - whether they're pushing a patient in a wheelchair or a mop and bucket - and even stoops to pick up the only piece of litter we pass.

She's also heavily involved in helping the hospital's fundraising efforts. The Christie is the second largest hospital charity in the country.
'The people of Manchester and Cheshire, and the wider North West, are amazing in the support they give to this hospital. I am constantly humbled by their stories and by the dedication they show to raising money for the work that goes on here.'

For her part she will be running the London marathon this month, and in May she'll be taking part in the Great Manchester Run, then doing a sponsored skydive in the Lake District.

'I'm terrified of heights so I'm really scared about that,' she said. 'I'm going out training around Hale and Bowdon at 5am to try to prepare for the two runs. I did the New York marathon a couple of years ago in just over four hours and I'm hoping to be a bit quicker in London.'

She didn't take long to get up to speed with life at the Christie, either, and has made sweeping changes to the way the hospital is run.

'When I came there were areas where I detected a certain sloppiness in the way things were done and something of a 'can't do' mentality. People sometimes had to wait four or five hours to see a doctor and that wasn't acceptable. If you do have to wait someone should come and apologise to you and explain what's going on. We even gave some patients bleepers so they could go shopping and we could let them know when to come back.

'We run the hospital as a business and by doing that we get the best for our patients. It is all about their experience and the quality of care. We don't always get it right, we know we're not perfect, but we are always trying to improve.

'I think it's often the little things that make a difference. If people are coming here, the chances are they are worried or frightened about what will be happening, having someone to welcome them, give them a smile and help them find where they need to be.

'There have been some tremendous improvements here in the last four years and not just because I have been here.'
But Caroline acknowledges that in post-recession Britain, with a general election looming, difficult times lie ahead. 'The next couple of years are going to be awkward financially for the health service because whoever wins the election is going to cut funding but we are in a really good position to rise to the challenge.'

And a new deal with Healthcare America to extend the provision of private health care will boost the Christie's coffers still further.
'We have the best cancer doctors in the UK here, we have a waiting list for nurses who want to work here. We also have a world-leading research programme which is creating the drugs of tomorrow. It is an absolutely inspirational place to work.'

But with a window-sill lined with awards - among them the Inspiring Woman of the Year, North West Inspiring Woman of the Year and last year's Crain's Manchester Business Businesswoman of the Year trophy - how long will she remain at the Christie?

'I get phone calls from head-hunters every day but I would find it very difficult to find a job as interesting as this. I love the people here and I love the work. When I came here I said I would be here for two years and I have been here five now and I would like to see projects I have started completed. It's not like any other hospital but when you work here you realise nothing is for ever.

'I'm feeling especially emotional about old friends at the moment because my school friend, who I've mentioned before in my blog, died of cancer on Boxing Day - leaving a little three year old girl without her mummy.

'She was treated here, so at least I had opportunities to see her in her last few months. I'm thinking of her daughter all the time and it makes me even more determined that we find more cures for this cruel disease.'

To sponsor Carolines
fundraising efforts, go to

Christie case notes
The Christie Hospital opened in Stanley Grove in 1892 as a home for people with cancer and was founded with money left to the people of Manchester by the industrialist Sir Joseph Whitworth. It was renamed in 1901 in honour of the chancellor of trustees, Richard Copley Christie and in 1932 the hospital moved to its present site.

From the 1930s Dr Rolston Paterson and his wife Dr Edith Paterson developed the hospital's world-wide reputation for the research and treatment of a range of cancers.

From the early days, the hospital has pioneered new treatments and building work now underway will create the largest early clinical trials unit in the world, due to open next year.
The hospital now treats 40,000 patients a year and employs 2,500 staff.

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