The Team

Charlie Keeney Area Director Christina Walding PhD Neil Simpson BA, MSocSc, MA, AHM Dr Robert Varnam PhD MRCGP
Mark Jennings MBA. BSc. CEng. Mari Firbank Tom Skinner Julia Roscoe
Charlie Keeney

Area Director - East and Programme Director - Commissioning Programme Team

Image Charlie joined the NHS Institute in July 2011 as one of four new area directors to the NHS. As an area director, Charlie has responsibility for the East of England and East Midlands areas. Charlie is also the NHS Institute's national lead on commissioning and, working in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners, has led a programme to develop resources to support new clinically led commissioning groups.

Charlie was previously Assistant Chief Executive at NHS Nottinghamshire County, a primary care trust which invests £1.2bn annually in the commissioning of local health services. At Nottinghamshire, he co-ordinated development of the first health and social care joint commissioning strategy for the county and led a series of pioneering teams which overhauled how the PCT addressed key public health challenges such as obesity and alcohol.

In total Charlie has spent six years in primary care organisations including three as Director of Corporate Development at Melton, Rutland and Harborough PCT. Charlie has worked in corporate or change management roles at the NHS Modernisation Agency, Kettering General Hospital, NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Physicians, and Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Ambulance Service. He has recently completed the taught element of a Masters programme in Strategic Management at the University of Bristol and is writing a dissertation on the implications of current NHS reform using a co-operative inquiry approach. Charlie was a Trustee Director of the Albert Kennedy Trust until 2008 and is a former visiting lecturer at the University of Northampton.

Christina Walding PhD

Programme Manager, Commissioning Programme Team

Image Christina joined the NHS Institute in July 2011 as a Programme Manager for the commissioning team. As Programme Manager, Christina has overseen the development of resources to support clinical commissioning groups, identifying the support needs of clinical commissioning and working with others to develop effective support.

Prior to this Christina worked as a Strategic Planning Team Manager for the Adult and Communities Directorate of Leicestershire County Council. During her time at Leicestershire County Council, Christina led on the development of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and a number of commissioning strategies. She also developed a strategic planning tool now used by the directorate to assess the 'value' of service, bringing together demand and performance data to inform strategic commissioning decisions.

Christina has spent five years undertaking a number of roles in the research field, completing a number of contracts for academic, health and voluntary sector organisations. During this time, Christina also completed a PhD in Health Services Management, assessing the appropriateness of hospital utilisation and length of stay for patients with long term neurological conditions. This led to series of recommendations regarding service redesign in the local area. Christina continues to be a visiting lecturer at the University of Nottingham and has published a range of peer reviewed papers related to health and social care services.

Neil Simpson, BA, MSocSc, MA, AHM

Associate, Commissioning Programme Team

Image Neil began his career in the NHS in 1984, via the National Management Training Scheme. He now has experience in all sectors of the NHS (acute, community and primary care), working across health and social care, covering both commissioning and provision.

Neil has worked at regional level for a health authority and various trusts, most recently NHS Leeds. Neil`s particular expertise is in workforce, organisational development, education and training, particularly in the field of commissioning. He is currently contracted to both the NHS Institute, supporting its commissioning development programmes, and the Royal College of General Practitioners, supporting the development of the RCGP Centre for Commissioning.

Neil has extensive and well evaluated experience of running workshops and facilitating groups, which includes board level and clinical staff. In addition to his first degree in Law, Neil has Masters degrees in Public Sector Management and Management Learning. He is also an Associate of the Institute of Healthcare Management, and has a Diploma in Employment Law and Personnel Practice.

Dr Robert Varnam PhD MRCGP

Clinical Lead for Commissioning

Image Dr Robert Varnam is a GP in inner city Manchester. He is a founder of the Centre for Commissioning, a partnership between the Royal College of General Practitioners and the NHS Institute. It supports GPs, practice teams and commissioning consortia to improve outcomes for patients and communities through excellent commissioning and excellent care. He formed the original vision of the Centre, including leading and supporting a core team of staff and a national network of 50 GPs. He developed the RCGP Commissioning Competency Framework, the Principles for Quality Commissioning, and the Clinical Commissioning Cycle. These provide frameworks for multi-professional collaboration between primary, secondary and community care colleagues, with strong community and public health engagement.

Robert is a member of the NHS Future Forum, advising the Prime Minister and Secretary of State on health reforms in England, with a particular focus on clinical leadership, service improvement, patient engagement and community mobilisation. He is also a member of policy and working groups, providing advice to the Secretary of State and policy leads in the Department of Health.

Robert is an experienced international speaker to widely varying audiences on issues of leadership, clinical engagement, service improvement and patient safety research. He co-authored a report for the King's Fund General Practice Quality Inquiry in 2010.

He has been a member of the GP Faculty at the NHS Institute for the past four years. He has developed tools for detecting, understanding and improving patient safety, including the Primary Care Trigger Tool, the 360 Degree Patient Safety Appraisal model and the Five Filters model. He develops and delivers training to understand and improve quality and safety, supporting clinical leadership and helping clinicians cross traditional sectoral boundaries to improve the cohesion of care. He is experienced in delivering training and coaching to clinicians of all disciplines, managers, researchers and policymakers.

Robert's PhD explored the role of patients in patient safety, and he maintains his research interest at the University of Manchester as Honorary Lecturer. He is passionate about holistic approaches to quality which engage the whole team as well as patients and the public, acknowledging that even the best people need good teams and systems to deliver excellent healthcare. He has contributed to the design and delivery of undergraduate and postgraduate education for nurses and doctors, including establishing a Masters degree in clinical nursing at the University of Manchester.

Mark Jennings MBA. BSc. CEng.

Senior Advisor

Image Mark has been an NHS manager for over 30 years with experience at national, health and trust levels, including being a director of a major acute hospital.

Subsequently Mark held the role of National Lead for Clinical Systems Improvement with the NHS Modernisation Agency where he led the development of guidance and systems to help the NHS improve patient flow. He also led a Prime Minister's Delivery Unit review focused on the patient journey through the emergency care system and was a member of the Department of Health project team responsible for delivering the maximum four-hour Accident and Emergency wait.

Mark held the post of Priority Programme Director at the NHS Institute and was responsible for leading work focused on helping the NHS improve the quality, productivity and efficiency of care. His role included developing and publishing the NHS Better Care, Better Value Indicators and leading the NHS Institute's High Volume Care Programme.

Mark joined The King's Fund in 2009 as the director responsible for establishing and leading the Health Care Improvement Directorate and the Quality in a Cold Climate Programme, before joining the Commissioning Programme Team at the NHS Institute.

Mari Firbank

Associate, Marketing and Communications

Image Mari began her career in advertising, working for McCann-Erickson Worldwide in Hong Kong. During her time at the agency, Mari was privileged to be selected as part of a 26-man core team to lead on the brand development and livery of the newly acquired and prestigious Cathay Pacific Airways account. After her time in Hong Kong, Mari chose to settle in the United Kingdom where she worked in strategic communications for a number of global commercial organisations, mainly in the telecommunications industry. Headhunted to join Samsung Worldwide in 2004, Mari was contracted to develop Samsung's below-the-line initiatives across the United Kingdom and Europe with significant and measurable success.

In 2006 Mari brought her expertise to the public sector when she joined the NHS Institute as Lead Associate to manage the Health and Social Care Awards Programme. Under Mari's leadership, the programme increased its national profile by 60% in the first year with a further growth of 30% each consecutive year thereafter, making it the largest awards scheme of its kind in the UK.

Mari joined the Commissioning Programme team as Marketing and Communications lead in April 2011.

Tom Skinner


Image Tom joined the Commissioning team in May 2011 with a wide range of skills supporting marketing and project management. Tom graduated from The University of Newcastle in 2006, with a BA in Modern Languages. Prior to his current role, Tom worked in a number of roles including marketing and hotel management in France, and more recently a teacher and PR Officer in Daegu, South Korea.

Julia Roscoe


Image Julia has just joined the commissioning team as a researcher, having recently worked at Warwick Medical School as a Research Associate.

Julia has a clinical background and experience in health care management, training and primary research. Having previously worked as a nurse in general practice, she is looking forward to working with the team to support the GP commissioning programme.