NICK Hulme would be the first to admit Colchester Hospital wasn’t in a good place three years ago when he became its chief executive.

He had spent three years in charge of Ipswich Hospital already, just a few miles up the A12.

But Colchester Hospital was a patient with complex issues – it was in special measures and needed a clean bill of health.

Time for tough love?

Nick might not call it that but he certainly made it clear to staff things had to change.

He said: “There were some people in their roles who couldn’t see what needed to change or why.

“There were difficult conversations with some people around their jobs – some left of their own accord and some were invited to leave.”

While Nick steers away from the suggestion some of those staff members might have been on highly paid salaries, he does say the majority of workers were on board with his management agenda.


The hospital was placed into special measures in 2013 and further problems led to services being restricted at its emergency department, emergency assessment unit and operating theatres in April 2016.

Nick, who arrived in May 2016, had many predecessors in a relatively short space of time at Colchester but there is a clear likeability about his direct way of communicating and his willingness to get stuck in.

Nowhere else could that have been more apparent when he has (literally) rolled his sleeves up on more than one occasion to help accident and emergency staff at the height of winter pressures.

It has been no exception this winter than in previous years when it comes to feeling the strain of the volume of patients arriving at A&E – no thanks to long term health conditions as well as the consequences of slips, trips and falls.

This is particularly significant for a hospital like Colchester which serves a high proportion of elderly patients.

Nick makes sure he walks the wards and has a clear presence.

“There have been a couple of occasions this year when I have helped to wipe down trolleys in A&E,” he says.

“I joked with one lady on a trolley I was wheeling that she’d been upgraded to executive service.”

Nick’s career in the NHS actually began as a hospital porter at the Middlesex Hospital in London in 1980 and he worked his way up the management ladder.

He knows it is a team effort and has always keen to praise his hard working staff, who at the height of pressure, have had to cope with as many as 37 ambulances turning up at A&E in eight hours.

The department is now in line for an overhaul, along with the hospital’s main entrance.

The plans, approved by Colchester Council in January, include a single storey extension at the emergency department to provide an urgent care centre, four more consulting rooms and a waiting area for patients’ relatives.


The front of the main building, which has largely stayed the same since the hospital opened in 1985, will change significantly with a two-storey extension to provide a new main entrance, along with a Costa coffee outlet and shops on the ground floor.

“The entrance and reception areas are frequently our patients’ first impression of the hospital, and it shapes their whole experience of coming to hospital at what for many is a stressful and anxious time,” he says.

Something which Nick has acknowledged has added to visitors’ woes recently is parking.

Number plate recognition system has operated at the hospital and neighbouring walk-in centre since the autumn meaning the exact time vehicles spend there is recorded on camera.

Fees are paid at the end of a visit using a touch screen machine.

But long queues have formed at the parking machines as patients and their families have tried to pay.

Visitors have complained about difficulties when entering their number plate details as well as being incorrectly charged.

Nick says: “There have been teething problems with the new system, as there can be with any new system while it takes time for people to adjust to it.

“But I would like to apologise to anyone who has been affected by this. Added stress when visiting a hospital is the last thing anyone needs.

“We’ve recognised the problems and will be installing another two parking machines, so there’ll be a total of five.”

The changes to the building and car park are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Colchester Hospital officially merged with Ipswich’s last summer, forming East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.

A draft strategy about how the trust will cope with increasing patient numbers while developing new, innovative health services, has just been released.

It’s already been made clear the services to be kept at each site would include accident and emergency units, obstetric-led maternity and 24/7 emergency admissions at each site.

Which services could be centralised are still up for discussion with further details likely later on this year.

“The public will be kept fully informed in the process,” Nick adds.

“We’re also considering a bus hopper scheme between the two sites as we appreciate, say, for patients living in Tendring, having to travel to Ipswich from home might not be practical.”

What are already long days for Nick could get longer as he continues to manage more than 10,000 staff - projected to serve a population of 800,000 people and an annual budget of £650 million.

But, with a few very early starts, he has managed to turn his attention to his own health over the last year, following the death of his wife, Annette, who died after battling breast cancer. She was 58.

Nick promised Annette he would complete the Coast to Coast walk which spans 191 miles from St Bees in Cumbria, right across the country to Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire.

He set off on June 18 and did just that with his trusty Black Labrador, Stanley, by his side.

“It coincided with one of the hottest weeks of the year,” says Nick.

“It all got a bit much for poor old Stanley but he did as much of it as he could.

“I had hoped to raise £14,000 for the Breast Unit at Ipswich Hospital and the homecare team at St Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich, which cared for Annette, but raised more than £19,000.”

There were times during the solitude where Nick was really given chance to reflect.

He adds: “It taught me about what’s really important to patients.

“We often think it’s the big stuff that really matters but it’s actually the kind word, it’s the bit of compassion that one individual will show.”