THE woman responsible for improving grassroots health care across Gwynedd and Anglesey has pledged to make the public’s voice her top priority.

Former pharmacist Ffion Johnstone is Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s West Area Director, overseeing the healthcare needs of 190,000 people in north west Wales.

She is one of three area directors brought in by BCUHB as part of its new structure, with the aim to reconnect with the communities it serves across the region.

Mrs Johnstone has 27 years’ experience working in the NHS, first as a pharmacist then as a senior manager. For the last year she has been working alongside Gwynedd Council, leading the transformation of the care of older people.

This included setting up an integrated health and social care team at Ysbyty Alltwen in Tremadog, which places heavy emphasis on what matters to patients.

She says her challenging new role presents the perfect opportunity to review services as she spearheads the process of finding out exactly what ordinary people want from their local health service.

Her responsibilities include six community hospitals – at Holyhead, Caernarfon, Tremadog, Pwllheli, Dolgellau and Tywyn – along with GP, nursing, dental, optometry, children’s, therapies and pharmacy services.

She also works in close partnership with Anglesey and Gwynedd county councils and the voluntary sector in her area.

Mrs Johnstone said: “My role as Area Director for the West is all about focusing on the health needs of local people, listening to individuals and the community about what they want from the services we provide.

“We’ve already started to review our services, not just from the top down but also, importantly, from the bottom up.

“Basically, we are doing a lot of listening to people about their requirements.

“My role is also about shifting care closer to home and moving our services out into the community, making our strong network of community hospitals hubs for a comprehensive range of health services.

“Another thing my team and I will be doing is working closely with GP practices to develop sustainable basic health care services, including medical, nursing, therapies and pharmacy.”

She added: “The area I am responsible for is very rural and sparsely populated, so we have to think of innovative ways of providing services.

“One of these is what is known as tele-medicine which, among other things, means using video conferencing for consultations.

“From their local community hospital or even their own homes people can use Skype to have a virtual conversation with a consultant based in a main hospital.

“We are already using this to some extent in the west of the BCUHB area and in future we hope to see it extended and developed.

“We are also very much trying to focus on the public health agenda, and that means getting to people early enough so that we can hopefully prevent a lot of diseases.”

The 49-year-old was born and brought up in Caernarfon, where she still lives with her husband, 14-year-old son and two daughters aged 12 and eight.

After graduating in pharmacy from Cardiff University, she started her career working as a pharmacist at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and across GP practices in the area.

She later became a general manager with the former North West Wales NHS Trust, and in 2009 she took on a senior operational role in pharmacy with BCUHB.

Mrs Johnstone admits there’s still plenty of work to do in terms of listening and engaging with the public but she said: “I am committed to listening to feedback about our services and, while it’s a challenge, I am finding the job very rewarding and fulfilling”.

BCUHB Interim Chief Executive Simon Dean, who is also Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Wales, said: “Our long-term engagement strategy is centred on building and strengthening relationships with partners, communities and individuals so that we become a more visible, listening organisation.

“Our recently established area teams in the east, central and west are key in helping us to deliver this.

“It is essential that we listen to what is said by the public and our staff, and act on that information so the health service reflects the needs of those who live and work in North Wales. We have already begun to do this, and we will be continuing it into 2016 and further ahead.

“This tele-health scheme impart of a pilot scheme being run with the Royal College of Physicians to ensure those living in rural areas can easily access a wide range health services. We hope that it will benefit elderly and infirm people, and those living in isolated areas, by saving them time and money in travelling long distances to medical appointments.”

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is the largest health organisation in Wales, employing around 16,100 staff. It provides a full range of primary, community, mental health and acute hospital services for a population of around 676,000 people across North Wales as well as some parts of mid Wales, Cheshire and Shropshire.

It runs Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor Hospital as well as 18 other acute and community hospitals and a network of over 90 health centres, clinics, community health team bases and mental health units.  The Health Board also coordinates the work of 115 GP practices and NHS services provided by North Wales dentists, opticians and pharmacies.

BCUHB’s new chief executive is Gary Doherty, currently Chief Executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and previously Deputy Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.