People Business Insights

Our series of short, insightful interviews with successful business leaders

Sonia Watson OBE

Imelda Redmond CBE

CEO – Healthwatch

Healthwatch UK is an independent national champion for people who use health and social care services. There is a local Healthwatch in every area of England and Healthwatch UK supports each one to find out what people like about health services, and what can be improved, they share these views with those who have the influence and power to make change happen.

Throughout the pandemic they have played an instrumental role raising awareness of key issues and continue to play a proactive part in improving services and encouraging individuals to take greater control of their own health, care and wellbeing.


What ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this month?

How we respond to a restructure of the NHS; Healthwatch is set up to work at a national level and local Healthwatch works at a local level. So it’s how we get the structure in place and resources to respond to this.

When you think about the way your organisation has pivoted since the pandemic – what are you most proud of / pleased about? How has this set you up for future success?

We did a really great job when the pandemic came. Actually, we did have conversations before lockdown with our teams and networks to prepare ourselves for this eventuality.

Our business is very much face to face and overnight our people responded brilliantly converting to working from home. There was a lot of change as well as higher than usual levels of anxiety. For some of our staff working from home was much more of a challenge. We have a staff engagement group and they were fantastic. They provided a lot of the ‘social glue’ for example, they set up a book club, ran socials online and for the first few months lunchtime activities.

Overall we support 151 organisations in our network and we moved this all online. All our training moved online. Structurally, we used to do things on a regional basis, so we started to do adopt a more thematic approach which worked well and we had a great response. One of the highlights was a four day conference on-line for 520 people.

We were clear before lockdown about our objectives; we respond to Covid, we support the network and we support each other. One of the hard things was some staff were up at the front of the pandemic others not so much. We found it helpful to keep everyone engaged by giving an overview and help get those less involved more active.

Additionally, one of our main priorities was to make sure we provided the public with timely, high quality, accessible information. And crucially to ensure a rapid turn around of the insight we received from the public to updating the organisations responding to the pandemic.

As you look forward to this year and years ahead where we will be living and operating with COVID, what are you focussing on to build a more resilient organisation?

I’ve taken a very easy-going approach about what happens next. I’ve left it with people to make up their own minds about a hybrid model of returning to work. It became clear to me that it wasn’t offices we needed it was meeting rooms. People do need to come together, so looking at how we build in and offer those connections will be critical.

What / who inspires you?

I’m driven by social justice, it’s been a theme all my working life; making things better for people. By following this passion, I’ve met many inspirational people. I was only 29 when I had my first Chief Exec role, and one of my board members was really inspiring. He always made me feel better, he mentored me, and it was his style that I found most engaging. During each interaction I always came away feeling I knew more.

There has been a huge amount of societal / community / family changes since last year – what one thing for you is most positive?

Being able to combine family life and work much more fluidly – means I’m more able to get things done. I’ve enjoyed this fluidness and not rushing around. Luckily, I have always been able to switch off and set boundaries.

What new habits have you introduced to look after your (and family’s) mental health / general wellbeing?

I’ve always loved gardening, cooking and walking and I’ve been able to enjoy these more.

What 2 or 3 things would you tell your 16 year-old self now?

I would tell my 16 year old self (who left school at 16) that I will be all right and to believe that I will be ok.

What are you reading at the moment that is inspiring you?

Sebastian Barry, I love his books, I’m reading ‘The life of Annie Dunn’. He writes beautifully and ‘Days without end’ was my favourite.

With thanks to Imelda.

Imelda was Interviewed by Chrissie Saunders, Senior L&D Consultant. People Business have been proud to support the Healthwatch UK Leadership team with team development, individual coaching and to help them shape and roll out a revised strategy for 2021.