An appreciation

TOM Divers OBE, who has died at the age of 68 after a short illness, was an architect of change in the NHS. He was a hugely influential figure in the modernisation and development of health services, particularly in the west of Scotland.

He was educated at St Peter’s Boys’ School, St Aloysius’ College, the University of Glasgow and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. His interest was in the classics and it was while studying at Glasgow that he met Marion, to whom he would be happily married for 42 years.

In 1975, he entered the NHS as a graduate trainee with Greater Glasgow Health Board, leading quickly to locality administration posts, firstly at Belvidere Hospital and then at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. After two years with Argyll and Clyde Health Board he returned to Greater Glasgow with senior posts across the two west end hospitals and responsibility as Board Director of Planning and Contracts.

In November 1996, he became Chief Executive of NHS Lanarkshire and it was in his third week that he had to deal with the E.coli emergency. His effective leadership during this crisis was recognised and welcomed by those involved in this tragedy.

Whilst in NHS Lanarkshire he was the leading force behind planning which culminated in the proposals for Acute Services, leading to the opening of the new Hairmyres and Wishaw Hospitals. In the early 2000s he was asked by the Scottish Government to lead the first national review of patient waiting lists. His work through chairing the National Working Group greatly improved waiting list management for all Health Boards. Revised standards were agreed and patient access targets were established.

Around the same time, Divers was also asked to undertake a national review of Renal Services. The recommendations resulted in a vast service improvement and established a new model for the future provision of renal dialysis and related services.

In the 2001 New Year’s Honours, he was awarded an OBE for services to the NHS.

He returned to Greater Glasgow as Chief Executive in November 2001, where he would continue until his retirement in March 2009. He moved right away to finalise the Board’s Acute Services Strategy; final proposals were approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2002. Thereafter he gained approval for the creation of a new, public-funded Children’s Hospital alongside adult and maternity acute services on what was to become the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus.

Early in 2002, he led a West of Scotland review of Radiotherapy and Oncology Services, appointing a Director for the services at the Beatson Cancer Centre. He secured the funding required to establish the West of Scotland Beatson Cancer Centre at the Gartnavel General Hospital site.

Divers also led other modernisation aspects including transforming Mental Health, Maternity and Sexual Health services, with a greater emphasis on delivering services within the community. He played a key role working with local authorities in the pioneering of integrated Community Health and Care Partnerships.

His role in steering the needle exchange and methadone supervised administration schemes in Greater Glasgow helped contain HIV/AIDS and these eventually became national services.

There have always been closely allied common interests between the NHS and the sources of academic medical teaching. During the early years of the new century, the Glasgow University Medical School faced significant challenges and Tom made a significant contribution to ensuring that the Medical School was re-established and fit for purpose.

As a result, links with Glasgow University were greatly enhanced and helped pave the way for the seamless transfer of all medical teaching and health delivery services from the Western Infirmary to the Queen Elizabeth University campus in 2015. In recognition of his close work with Glasgow University he was proud to be appointed to an Honorary Doctorate in 2006.

Throughout his career, Tom encouraged clarity of thought and expression in the work of those around and set high standards which, through his leadership skills, colleagues were keen to meet. He displayed extraordinary intellectual inquisitiveness, energy, integrity and humility which made him one of the outstanding public servants of the last 40 years.

He was an avid fan of sport: football, rugby, cricket and golf were among his preferred viewing options and, in his younger days, he was a keen competitor on the tennis and badminton courts. He was an occasional golfer, an enthusiastic traveller, mainly in Europe, and a keen mountain walker, mainly in the Lake District. He attended concerts and was a regular listener to Radio 3 and Classic fm.

Tom’s greatest pleasure in life undoubtedly came from time spent with his family. He was a beloved husband of Marion and wonderful father of Peter, Christopher and Andrew. He was also overjoyed to become a grandfather to Ruaridh during his final year of life. They are all left with countless happy memories built on time spent at home and on family holidays.

Tom lived life to the fullest and will be fondly remembered by all who knew him. His approach to all aspects of his life was shaped by his own moral compass which was rooted in his deeply-held, but private, faith. He died on December 24, 2019.

*This appreciation was written by Tom Divers’s family and NHS colleagues.