Meet The Experts – Richard Armitage, NHS Director for Optegra Eye Hospital North London
Please give an overview of your role within Optegra?
I joined Optegra in 2018 as Hospital Director in Birmingham, when the company was very focused on our private vision correction business. Three years later my role, as NHS Director, tells the story of how the company has evolved over the years, and now puts as much importance on NHS funded work as it does our private paying customer.
For me, the opportunity to lead this growing part of our business is really exciting and presents many different challenges. Perhaps the most notable difference in the roles is that decisions I now make impact not just one hospital, but are felt throughout the whole company, and set the direction for the future of the business.
What first attracted you to this industry/ophthalmology/hospital management?
My attraction for working in this field came from an original interest in health and fitness and wanting to work in that sector simply because I enjoyed it and that was positive and good for wellbeing.
My early career was very much sales and operations and there was a natural progression out of gyms and into hospitals as the sectors started to integrate and healthcare became more holistic.
Being part of a business that actively improves people’s quality of life is very rewarding.
What brings you joy in your work?
Seeing my team thrive. Its cliché but true. Without a high performing team around you you will never succeed.
It’s also amazing to hear the personal stories of our patients who have had life-changing experiences as result of our interventions – I recall one story of a widow who found comfort in playing golf, but as his eyesight deteriorated even this wasn’t possible. After his cataract surgery he said he found joy in life again. Amazing.
What are the challenges/joys of hospital management?
It’s great to be able to see first-hand how we can really help people.
As for challenges, no one can overlook the past 12 months and how tough this pandemic has been for everyone; yet we have had to ensure our teams can safely come to work everyday and care for patients.
It can be easy to forget that outside of work people have also faced a lot of personal challenges, so to keep motivation and morale high has been tough.
What does your role as NHS Director involve?
I have the pleasure of being responsible for our entire NHS business – from our relationship with referral partners, commissioners and Trusts, to ensuring our bookings system is patient-focused and efficient; and to the delivery of exceptional care for our patients when they enter the hospitals for treatment.
Specifically, at the moment, we are working hard to optimise and standardise our patient pathway which will allow us to see and treat more patients, and always striving to improve our already excellent safety and outcomes.
Greatest achievement/proudest moment of your career?
This latest role is quite a highlight – with the global pandemic causing so much pressure on our NHS, the fact that my work with colleagues across Optegra is making a difference to NHS patients is fantastic.
Ophthalmology is one of the main treatment areas affected by the increased waiting lists, and so for us to be able to make a difference to peoples’ lives, rather than leaving them with poor vision for so much longer, is something I am very proud of.
How would you describe the ethos of Optegra?
We are a young fast-paced business that is able to adapt and react quickly to what is an ever-changing health landscape. Where possible we remove bureaucracy and red tape and allow our colleagues and teams to make decisions that are underpinned by doing what is right for our patient, which ultimately is what is right for our business.
Most challenging moment in your career?
Most challenging was dealing with an incident at a health club I was managing, where a mistake by a contractor lead to a chemical gas leak. This was relatively early on in my career and taught me more lessons than we have time to share here. One main takeaway from the event was that the safety of our staff and customers has to come before everything else, and that it runs much deeper than simply having written polices and procedures. There must be an ingrained culture of safety amongst its staff – from board to ward.
Your key/top piece of advice around eye health and protecting vision?
I do think people should take greater care when in the sun and a good quality pair of sunglasses is a must – especially on children.
I also worry about the prevalence of children growing up increasingly short-sighted due to too much screen time, and think often this is mimicked behaviour from their parents.
So the advice (that I can’t claim to follow very well) would be to ditch the smartphones, laptops and TVs and get outside (but with sunglasses on!!!).
What has the pandemic/lockdown taught you?
I used to lean towards “don’t bring your home life to work” but as we have increasingly blurred these boundaries and taken our work life home, it feels a little outdated.
We need to accept that to get the most out of people, and for them to thrive, we need to acknowledge that work is not everything, and offer support when people inevitably have challenges in their personal lives.
Your perfect holiday?
Skiing. I only found a love for this very recently but can think of nothing I would rather do than spend a few days in the mountains, phone off, just enjoying the peace and space. And then of course there is the après ski…!
Most unusual holiday you have experienced?
Swimming with whale sharks off the east coast of Australia. They are the largest fish in the sea – growing to the size of a bus – but luckily only eat tiny plankton, so swimming with them is both very safe and an incredibly calming and humbling experience.
Any unusual or quirky recipe you cook/cocktail you make?
My cocktail making skills only go so far as adding tonic to gin – though I do have quite an extensive collection. I dread to think some of the concoctions I would have made, or been forced to drink, when I was playing rugby!