UHDB former Chair John Rivers awarded Honorary Doctorate | Latest news

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UHDB former Chair John Rivers awarded Honorary Doctorate

UHDB former Chair John Rivers CBE DL has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from University of Derby in recognition of his impact on the region through the development of UHDB and his commitment to the Florence Nightingale legacy in Derbyshire.

John recently retired from his role as Chair of UHDB, where he helped oversee a transformation in NHS care in Derbyshire during his 10 years in the post. 

One of John’s key strengths has been his commitment to building a relationship between the NHS Trust and the local community which it serves.

He was innovative and bold by involving the Trust’s governors in a range of issues, particularly on the merger, because he recognised the importance of those governors as representatives of the communities they served.

John lives in Cromford, Derbyshire, and developed an interest in Florence Nightingale after discovering that he and his wife live in a house Florence regularly used to visit to care for her great aunt before she left Derbyshire for the Crimean War.

John has since campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the life and achievements of Florence Nightingale at a national as well as local level. He led a successful campaign to rename London Road Community Hospital in her name and has helped to obtain significant funding for a major new study into her life in Derbyshire.

He has also strengthened local links with the national Florence Nightingale Foundation. The Foundation provides scholarships to nurses, midwives and other health professionals and John has provided mentoring support to their scholarship students each year for a number of years. 

John came to work in Derby when he joined Rolls-Royce plc in February 1992. Initially, he was Personnel Director of the Aerospace Group but became the HR Director for the company from 1997 until he retired in 2007.

Although HR Director with worldwide responsibilities, John was always very much involved in community relations in Derbyshire.

At various times, he was a Governor at Wilmorton College (now Derby College); a Board member of the Derbyshire Community Foundation (now Foundation Derbyshire) which supports charitable causes throughout the county; a board member and Chair of ViVA Sinfonia, which is the orchestra of the East Midlands based in Derby; and Chair of Common Purpose, which offers development programmes for local leaders to better understand the way in which the community works.

In April 2009, John became Chair of the Board of Derby Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust. He oversaw the opening of the new Royal Derby Hospital from May 2009 following a £344 million transformation. He also became Chair of the Burton Hospitals Foundation Trust in March 2016. The purpose of being appointed Chair to each Trust was to encourage them to collaborate in healthcare provision and in July 2018, John became Chair of the newly merged University Hospitals of Derby and Burton Foundation Trust (UHDB).

During John’s tenure, the Trust grew to become one of the largest university teaching hospitals in the country, which has already had a measurable effect on clinical outcomes. The University has been working with UHDB for many years. Many of its new graduate nurses, nursing associates and allied health professionals work there upon qualifying.

John was awarded a CBE in 2001 for services to the community and became a Deputy Lieutenant for Derbyshire in 2011.

John’s acceptance speech

"Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen and Graduands of 2019.

Life is full of surprises and sometimes they are not ones you might wish upon yourself.  But perhaps the least expected are the best and this was exactly my sentiment when I received a letter in September from your Vice chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell, asking me if I ‘felt able to accept the award of Honorary Doctor of the University’. This was one of the easiest decisions of my career and made in a milli-second. As you heard in the citation, I have lived and worked in Derbyshire since 1992 and to be awarded an honorary doctorate by my local university is special and gives me a great sense of local pride.

This award is partly for my work in the NHS through being Chair of the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton and their predecessors. But I want to stress to you all that whatever my achievements and however well I may have set direction and  given leadership, they are the result of teamwork and the commitment of  very many people in our five hospitals. They have worked together over the years in increasingly challenging circumstances to give people the healthcare they deserve.

So, if I may promote the merits of your hospital, which is now one of the biggest in the country with over 50 operating theatres and 1700 beds, it is for the work that they do. Every day, they see 1000 people come to A&E or the minor injuries units, 4000 attending out-patients appointments and 220 patients admitted for emergency care; on a brighter note 25 babies are born each day... over 9000 every year...and I suspect one or two are in the audience!

I am very proud of our Hospital and I believe you have every reason to be proud as well.

The other reason in the citation is for promoting awareness of the life and achievements of Florence Nightingale. Though she was born in 1820 in Florence in Italy, she was brought up in Derbyshire where her family home was at Lea Hurst in the village of Holloway, just down the road from where I live now at Cromford and less than 20 miles from where we are all now sitting. She loved her Derbyshire home and lived here for 30 years or so, before travelling to the Crimea in 1854, where with a small band of nurses from England, she cared for 1000s of sick and wounded soldiers including some from the Derbyshire Regiment which served in the Crimea at the same time.

By the time she died in 1910 she had established a worldwide reputation as a reformer of army medical services and a pioneer of public healthcare designing hospitals and hospital wards, not least in Derby’s own historic Hospitals, the Derby General Infirmary and the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary.  She also pioneered the use of statistics to analyse healthcare problems and became the first woman member of the Royal College of Statisticians.

Nightingale was a very modern woman by the standard of her own times and she defied all social conventions and her family’s wishes to pursue a career in nursing which was not then regarded as a reputable career for any woman.

Of course, it is as founder of the Nursing profession that she is best known and in 1860 she established the first nurses’ training school in this country at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Happily, it is the training of nurses by the University for Derby and Burton Hospitals which helps bind them together in their common enterprise for the benefit of this community. In its way, this is the most fitting tribute to one of Derbyshire’s most influential people.  The 200th anniversary of her birth is to be celebrated in 2020, not least in Derbyshire, where, amongst other activities and events, the Hospital will be renaming the London Road Community Hospital as the Florence Nightingale Community Hospital.

Finally, I am conscious that I am addressing many people who are about to set out or continue their careers. As I reach the end of mine, I reflect that I have spent 6 years in academia, 36 years in the engineering industry, 10 years in the NHS and 30 overlapping years in various community activities in music, education, industrial heritage, and leadership development. Some of you will know what you wish to do, but as my career has shown, you do not have to know from the outset how your career will develop. In all careers success will depend upon hard work and how you respond to fortune, chance and opportunity.

One certain contributor to your success will be the great education you have received here at Derby University and the devotion your teachers have shown to your personal and intellectual development. I am sure you will be grateful for what has been given to you, as I have been for my education. I was the first member of my family to go to University and it helped shape my life and define who I am.

Thank you once again to the University of Derby for awarding me an Honorary Doctorate, my congratulations to all who are graduating yesterday and today and my best wishes to everyone here at this awards ceremony."