BEING at the helm of an NHS hospital is no easy task during these difficult economic times, so to be named as one of the top 50 chief executives in the country is a huge accolade.

It is one that has just been given to Jacqueline Totterdell, chief executive of Southend Hospital.

Ms Totterdell has been in the driving seat at the hospital for just three years, but in that time she has overseen many changes which have benefited patients and staff alike.

The leading healthcare publication, the Health Service Journal, recognised her work by choosing her from a shortlist of 100 top hospital bosses .

She said: “I am absolutely gobsmacked.

Being a chief executive in the NHS today is quite tough going, but there are a lot of great ones and I wouldn’t have considered myself to be in the top 50.

“These are challenging economic times, but we are beginning to make headway.”

In naming her in the top 50 the HSJ noted the difficulties she has faced, not least in A&E waiting times.

The magazine said: “Her current post is far from an easy one: she is heading up a challenging trust in a challenging county. The organisation was subject to enforcement action in 2013-14 in relation to governance concerns and accident and emergency target breaches. But Jackie is making progress in turning things around.”

Alastair McLellan, editor of HSJ, said: “It was notable what judges focused on in their deliberations. It was not mortality rates or financial bottom lines, instead their litmus test was one particular question in the staff survey: the percentage of staff who would be happy for a friend or family member to be treated at the organisation at which they work.

“The chief executives listed are a collection of individuals – some high profile, some not. Some are very experienced, some less so with some in smaller trusts and others in the biggest. What they are united by is impressive performance at a trying time.”

Ms Totterdell took up the top job at Southend in 2011, having previously held senior roles at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals Trust and the Hillingdon Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Speaking of the challenges she continues to face, she said: “It is about maintaining good patient safety and care. It’s not only about good outcomes for patients, but also about how patients feel we have been kind and caring to them.

“Financially there is no light on the horizon, but there is more we can do with joined up care and with value added care, but I amnot sure the NHS thinks we can do that and that’s a worry.

“If you took half of my patients out of my hospital I would still have to pay the same for the infrastructure.

More and more trusts are getting into financial difficulty.”

During her tenure, Ms Totterdell has overseen the transformation of the hospital’s main reception and outpatients areas, but it is the changes for staff and patients Ms Totterdell is proudest of.

She said: “I think we have achieved better patient care. We have listened to what patients say and staff seem happier and more engaged.

“We are getting on top of longstanding issues with how we work and how patients flow through the hospital.

“There are a lot of areas where we have made improvements and we will just keep progressing that.”

Her vision for the future continues to focus on high standards of care.

She added: “I want us to stabilise where we are and consistently meet the standards we set ourselves. We will continue to make patient care better, see our mortality rates fall and keep our staff happy.”