Di Thomas - There to care

Picture by Jim Holden

Picture by Jim Holden - Credit: Jim Holden

Meet Di Thomas, Chief Executive of Horder Healthcare in Crowborough.

We are an independent healthcare charity, established in 1954. We run The Horder Centre in Crowborough, a nationally recognised orthopaedic hospital. Over the past few years the organisation has expanded with centres in Tunbridge Wells, Eastbourne and Horley, offering physiotherapy and orthopaedic services to both NHS and private patients.

What did you do before joining Horder Healthcare?

On leaving school I undertook a plethora of jobs, from shop work to Redcoat, and lifeguard to assistant secretary in the civil service. It was not until I started to work in hospitals, taking on roles such as orderly, nursing auxiliary and physiotherapy aide, in a care of the elderly hospital and then Stoke Mandeville’s spinal unit, that I realised that I wanted to be a healthcare professional. I found being able to help others achieve their ‘daily activities of living’ a real privilege.

How did you get to where you are now?

I did not go to university, as I felt that I should carry on growing and developing my knowledge. I undertook a Diploma in Nursing and then one in Management. I developed a real hunger for learning and undertook a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). This was difficult, as I was working full time and had continued to develop my career in the private sector as an Acute Care Manager. Following the achievement of my MBA I successfully applied for the position of Hospital Manager with Nuffield Health and worked there for eight years prior to being appointed as Chief Executive of The Horder Centre.

What has been your career highlight to date?

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Being appointed in this role – it was truly the culmination of the bringing together of my business skills and acumen, professional knowledge and experience and a caring ethos.

I have built a fantastic team around me and have a wonderful, dedicated workforce. I have been able to build on the firm foundations of the charity that existed before my arrival, to create a wonderful therapeutic centre of excellence in the heart of the Ashdown Forest, supported by a network of outreach centres.

What’s next for the business?

Our ambition is to extend our reach: to provide benefit to many more people in Sussex, the south east and further afield. We will seek to achieve this in a number of ways including the development of centres, services and information which will help people live healthier lives, fulfilling their full potential. Being in the privileged position of being able to achieve this is what gets me out of bed in the morning and gives a focus to my life.

What is the biggest business mistake you have ever made?

Being influenced by individuals who were successful in their jobs but who were not good role models: they really did not share my values, they were more focused on the bottom line and their own personal success, and they had lost sight of the purpose and reason for being a healthcare leader. Working for these types of leaders is truly frustrating and I make an effort every day, now, to keep true to the purpose of why I became a nurse and then healthcare leader, to make a difference.

Is Sussex a good place to set up a business?

Sussex is a fantastic place to set up and run a business. We have been impressed by the space for new business sites, as we grow and develop.

There has been an available, mixed-skilled workforce for us to choose from, which has created a wonderful, engaged team of people.

We are fortunate to be close to London but improved transport links are certainly needed.

More than anything, the beautiful therapeutic landscape allows people to draw solace and inspiration. It helps patients recover and provides an environment that encourages a good ‘work/life balance’

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