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Logo: NHS East of England Collaborative Procurement Hub
Happy birthday NHS
Celebrating 75 years of the NHS
05 July 2023

To celebrate 75 years of the NHS today, we spoke with Howard Rolfe, Managing Director at the East of England NHS Collaborative Procurement Hub (the Hub), to discuss his experiences with the NHS and thoughts on its future.


  1. What is your background?

After I graduated from University, I joined Marks and Spencer as a Management Trainee and I stayed there for 30 years. In 1997, I was seconded to the Cabinet Office where I undertook a review into NHS procurement on behalf of the Treasury and the Department of Health, and a consequence of the review was the creation of PASA (Purchasing and Supply Agency). Along the way, I have been the leader of a district council and a Non-Executive Director at Royal Papworth Hospital.


  1. How long have you been working in the NHS?

I’ve been working in the NHS for over 25 years. I first undertook a review of NHS procurement whilst working in the Cabinet Office in 1998, and then I became a Non-Executive Director at Papworth (now Royal Papworth) Hospital in 2002.  

During my time at Papworth there was much discussion and planning for the new hospital which is now an established facility in Cambridge. Papworth is renowned for its clinical expertise but patient care is also paramount and this chimed with my other experiences with customers and voters. Throughout my career it has always been the people that matter.

I joined the leadership of the Hub in 2007, and have been Managing Director since 2018.


  1. Why did you choose to work for the NHS?

My admiration for the NHS was cemented in my work at . Whilst there, I chaired the Audit and Clinical Governance committees and this kept me close to procurement. The launch of NHS procurement hubs in 2006/07 was of great interest and a year later I became involved in the Hub in the East of England and have been there ever since! My role is very stimulating, varied and rewarding and I am very lucky to be working with a supportive and great team and colleagues.


  1. What is your favourite thing about working in the NHS?

I have enjoyed working in both the public and private sectors but my favourite thing about working in the NHS is the people. The NHS is about people, in particular patients, and I am pleased to be able to make even just a small difference. Our work at the Hub is ultimately about helping patients, which is something that will always be incredibly rewarding to me.


  1. What is the greatest challenge about working for the NHS?

The greatest challenge about working for the NHS would have to be its size, complexity, and devolved responsibilities. The biggest challenge of my job is to continually adapt to changing circumstances but ensure that we deliver a service that supports our members in navigating it all – that has always been at the very heart of it for me.


  1. How has the NHS changed in the years that you’ve been working at the Hub?

I would say that COVID has made a big difference in the NHS, as the waiting times have extended, which resulted in more demand than capacity. However, we were very lucky to have the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic and for all the hard work that everyone in the NHS delivered. I’m incredibly proud of all the work we did to support our in-trust colleagues through what was of course a very tough time for many.


  1. Do you have any personal NHS stories you’d be willing to share?

There are many personal stories throughout my life where the NHS has always been there for myself and my family – from the care of relatives, and the births of my children and grandchildren, and for that, I will always be very grateful for the NHS and its services. The NHS has been there and will always remain there for all of us. Also, I think being a small part of creating the new hospital at Papworth was something that will always be unique and rewarding in my NHS experience thus far.

  1. What are your hopes/thoughts on the future of the NHS?

That is a very big question. My initial hope and thoughts on the future of the NHS is that our focus must change from cure to prevention so that fewer people need to see a GP or go to the emergency department. We need to embrace technology for the same purpose and reducing demand which is my biggest hope for the future of our NHS.

I am looking forward to seeing what the future of the NHS may hold and being involved in what I hope will be some very rewarding and positive changes.

Finally, I wish the NHS a very Happy 75th birthday!


You can read more about the past 75 years of the NHS over on the NHS England website.