Pat Mills Exclusive! Department of Health Commercial Director Resigns

When the press people at any government department don’t deny something or try and persuade you not to publish it, you can be pretty sure you’re right – and also that it isn’t exactly a state secret! So when we suggested to Pat Mills and his colleagues at the Department of Health a couple of months back that the recruitment of a new Chief Commercial Officer, at Director-General level, surely made his role untenable, the answer was illuminating.  “No comment” came back from the press people, rather than “not at all, Pat is looking forward to working with his new boss”, so it was pretty clear what that meant. We said his departure by Spring 2017 was 75% probability.

It is therefore not the biggest shock in the world to report that as we surmised, Mills is leaving the Department of Health after two and a half years as Commercial Director. He resigned on October 31st, his last day is January 31st, although we understand he may be handling the odd question or call after that. Indeed, in his farewell email to staff, he says he might even pop up elsewhere in government.

He explains his reasons for going like this.

“I am leaving, primarily, for a better work-life balance:  my wife has lost patience with the now standard 13-14hr workday, and yet more at the weekends.  I’m not going to a new post or job, but am eagerly anticipating being able to spend an hour or two each morning in the coffee shop with papers and journals, and perhaps some travelling, before moving on to the next venture(s).  I may even pop up elsewhere in HMG.  And, as some of you know, I have a couple of movies launching in February and April to look forward to (invites will follow!)”

Movies – we knew he had an interesting portfolio of activities (as evidenced by his LinkedIn page) but we didn’t know about this! No doubt there is some truth in the work/life balance point, but let’s be honest here. When your employer says they are bringing in someone over your head to do a job that pretty much sounds like your own, the writing is not exactly on the wall – it is tattooed onto your own forehead. For a man of his undoubted high-level experience, achievement and intellect, his position was clearly untenable as soon as that was announced.

In his parting email, he praises his team, saying government generally and the NHS needs better commercial execution. He talks about the impact his team has had -  “the savings you achieve, the cash receipted from sales/deals, the off-balance sheet capital raised, and the income generated, is the equivalent to several large hospitals added to the system, each and every year.  At a time when the system is experiencing unprecedented demand, and is massively financially stressed, these contributions make a real difference”.

Our problem in assessing his tenure is that we suspect he had more success in those wider commercial areas such as income generation than he achieved in the core “procurement” arena that boring traditionalists like us tend to focus on. We look back on the very good procurement strategy / development programme of 2013 as a wasted opportunity largely; so many good ideas in there that have just died. However, in his defence, that agenda was taken on in part by Lord Carter, and Mills we understand was never on the same wavelength as the good Lord. However, to be frank, Carter’s initiatives are looking more than a bit shaky in the procurement space anyway, so we won’t pick sides in that fight!

Mills handed over responsibility for the operating model work (the NHS Supply Chain DHL contract replacement) to Jim Sahota a while back, and as we have said the jury is still very much out on that programme. So whilst we liked him personally from our few meetings, Mills has not had a huge impact really on “core” NHS procurement. Perhaps he would like to do an interview with us and we can get his views on those areas where he did make a real impact? Good luck to him anyway.

Voices (2)

  1. John Jones:

    Peter, as someone who has known Pat for in excess of 30 years, take it from me, his rationale for leaving is , as it says on the tin.

    A big loss to the Department, a bigger gain to his wife, family and friends.

  2. Final Furlong:

    It’s a shame because he was a very approachable, open and affable character who was keen to introduce disruptive commercial models into the NHS (and DH).

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