The NHS leader who is setting the standard for future health

Linda Pollard CBE is driving forward her £450m vision to overhaul the region's healthcare with a new hospital plan, writes Lizzie Murphy.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust chairman Linda Pollard. Picture Tony Johnson.

I haven’t even walked through the door of her office before Linda Pollard CBE starts quizzing me.

She wants to know where I’m from and then launches into a conversation with the photographer about the directness of people from Yorkshire. “We say what we mean, don’t we?” she laughs.

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The chairman of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, one of the largest hospital trusts in the country, chats and jokes with staff and patients in the hospital ward we are using for the photo shoot. It’s all very friendly and her skill at putting people she meets at ease is evident.

However, Mrs Pollard, 73, describes herself as driven, tough, direct and someone who sets very high standards. “You can’t be nice to everyone all the time but I like to think people understand what my motivation is and want to get on the journey with me,” she adds.

The latest journey Mrs Pollard is taking everyone on is the £450m plan to redevelop the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) site in the city centre - an idea she first conceived two years ago.

Later this month, the Trust will submit an outline planning application to Leeds City Council to build two new hospitals. The main build is a new home for Leeds Children’s Hospital. There will also be another building for adult health services, with new theatres for day-case procedures and added critical care.

The Hospitals of the Future vision would increase the amount of world-leading research produced in the hospital, reduce the footprint of the site and transfer more services into the community by adopting new technology.

Mrs Pollard says: “The Leeds Children’s Hospital is the country’s best kept secret. It serves most of Yorkshire, but it’s hidden away.”

She adds: “Forty six per cent of our income is received from specialist services so we have to make the delivery of that fit for the 21st Century.”

The huge project would include demolishing parts of LGI and selling off some of the older listed buildings.

Parking would also be addressed with a new multi-storey car park.

“We’re sitting on a huge amount of empty space,” Mrs Pollard says. “We have the worst utilised site in the NHS.”

The key to making the vision a reality is funding. “Clearly there’s no public funding for the new hospitals,” admits Mrs Pollard. “We will explore all options but it might need to be some kind of inventive private funding.”

Although plans are in their early stages, Hospitals of the Future would also become one of the cornerstones of the proposed Innovation District.

Mrs Pollard is co-chairman of the Leeds Innovation District Partnership, a group that brings together the hospital trust, universities and council to drive forward the new scheme.

The district would focus on research and innovation, connecting with external partners in business, government and the third sector.

“The innovation is what will be the big ambition for Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Working with private sector (research companies) opens up a massive amount of innovation potential,” she says.

Mrs Pollard has already led the Trust to a number of successes, including the first financial surplus (£18.9m) for the organisation in four years and the biggest in its 20 years history.

However, Hospitals of the Future would be the biggest project the Trust has seen for decades.

Mrs Pollard doesn’t know where her drive comes from. “I’m certainly not silver spoon,” she says.

She adds: “I wasn’t driven by monetary value but I get such a thrill from people achieving something. There’s no feeling on earth like it.”

Born and brought up in Saltaire, she left school at 16 to work as a junior administrator in a law firm.

However, her career quickly escalated and, after a spell in marketing, she set up a women’s fashion business at the age of 23.

She later founded an international marketing business and also worked in numerous director positions for brands such as BMW and Puma (UK).

Mrs Pollard is married with three grown-up children and four grandchildren. She worked full time, and simultaneously carried out public sector roles, whilst raising her two sons and daughter. “I got to a position where I could afford to get help at home,” she says.

Her move into the public sector was inspired by her trade union leader grandfather who was passionate about public service. She became a magistrate at the age of 34, one of the youngest in the country at the time. “It’s probably the best thing I ever did,” she says.

Mrs Pollard has held a variety of non-executive health roles, including chairman of health commissioners NHS Airedale, Bradford and Leeds, and the West Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority

​​She is also a member of the chairs advisory group for NHS Improvement.

She was deputy chairman of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward until its abolition in 2012. After it closed she was approached to oversee the winding down of Leeds and Bradford Primary Care Trusts and their transfer into the new Clinical Commissioning Groups. From there she was asked to chair the board of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.

“I knew there were financial challenges and there was a lot to tackle in a Trust which has six sites and thousands of staff. But if you’re clever, you appoint ultra-clever people in the areas you know you’re not as strong in,” she says.

In her spare time, Mrs Pollard is a keen gardener at her home near Leeds. She is also passionate about women in business, and acts as a business angel and mentor.

She was awarded a CBE in 2013 for her work in the business community and an OBE in 2003 for her work in Bradford.

She took her two eldest grandchildren to Buckingham Palace to receive her OBE. “I wanted to show them that you can do anything in this world if you set your mind to it and work hard,” she says.

As for retirement, she insists there are no plans. “I tried it three times but it was boring.”

Curriculum Vitae

Title: Linda Pollard CBE DL Hon.LLD, chairman of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and co-chairman of Leeds Innovation District

Date of birth: September 30, 1945

Education: Bingley Grammar School

First job: Trainee administrator at Walker Morris and Coles

Favourite holiday destination: Majorca

Favourite film: Four Weddings and a Funeral

Favourite song: I love Barbara Streisand but I can’t pick just one song.

Last book read: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I usually have about three books on the go at once. I’m enjoying re-reading the classics at the moment.

Car driven: BMW 3 series

Most proud of: My family