Honorary doctorate for health chief
18 January 2023
Former group chief executive of Barts Health NHS Trust, Dame Alwen Williams, has received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London.
During the Winter Graduation ceremony at the Docklands campus today, Dame Alwen received the doctorate in science from Vice Chancellor and President of UEL Professor Amanda Broderick.
Dame Alwen's career in the NHS has spanned more than 40 years since she joined a national graduate training scheme for NHS management in 1980.
As group chief executive of Barts Health NHS Trust, the largest in London and one of the UK's biggest, Dame Alwen led and transformed the Trust, taking it from special measures to become one of the country's most respected NHS organisations until her departure in 2022.
In 2016, the Trust had a £135million budget deficit and was placed in special measures. But through Dame Alwen's leadership, the Trust was turned around, and it came out of special measures in 2018, one of the proudest moments of her career.
Since that transformation, Dame Alwen has also led on the Covid-19 response at the Trust's five hospitals, including setting up the vaccine centre at the ExCeL Centre.
While she describes the pandemic as the most difficult part of her career, it is also the way in which the NHS reacted and responded which Dame Alwen is proud of.
Upon receiving her honorary doctorate during the ceremony for graduands in the Royal Docks School of Business and Law, Dame Alwen said, “I am proud to receive this award from the University of East London - it is an enormous honour.
"I have a deep affinity with east London, having lived in the area for three decades and having given birth to my two children here, and having worked for the NHS in east London for 26 years. Although I was brought up in the West Midlands I am now an east Londoner through and through. It has been a great privilege to have lived and worked in this vibrant, inclusive and diverse community."
Speaking further about her honorary doctorate, Dame Alwen strongly urged the new UEL graduates to consider a career in the NHS.
"It's a real sense of vocation serving the people of east London and doing a job that is worthwhile.
"It's a great organisation for career development with a huge number of different roles, from frontline clinical roles to managerial roles, professional roles and ancillary type service roles."
Offering advice for aspiring NHS leaders graduating on the day, she said, "The NHS is a microcosm of society - how you work with people is key."
And for leadership in any sector, she added, "Effective leadership is about managing people and creating the environment and context in which the people that work for you can thrive. Your role is very much to look after your team to make sure their experience of working in your organisation is the best it can be, and that everyone feels they belong.
"Leading an effective team is about enabling that team to be able to voice their concerns and speak out so they are empowered to make change happen."
Dame Alwen recently stepped down as group CEO. She has now taken on the role of chair of the Barts 900th anniversary campaign which celebrates St Bartholomew's hospital providing 900 years of service in 2023 and is also fundraising to establish a breast cancer centre and clinical research unit.
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