Spotlight interview: Francine de Stoppelaar
Healthcare has been at the forefront of the news for the last two years, therefore, we were fascinated to speak to current parent, Francine de Stoppelaar. As Director of Pharmacy, she has been integral in developing a new hospital in London which boasts the very latest in medical innovations and state-of-the-art technology…
Briefly describe your career and current role
I’m a clinical pharmacologist and hospital pharmacist by background. I trained for 11 years in The Netherlands, specialising in hospital pharmacy, gaining my Doctorate in Hospital Pharmacy and my Master’s in Clinical Pharmacology. I then took a Certificate in Business Administration at Warwick University.
Inspired by my Father, who was a Professor in Dental Microbiology, I wanted to pursue a scientific career in healthcare/pharmacology. So I started off in a Dutch university hospital where I did research in drug behaviour in patients with heart and lung problems. I then moved to the UK where I pursued my clinical career in both children and adult intensive care at several world-leading NHS hospitals: St Mary’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. I then moved to smaller London hospitals – the Cromwell and the Wellington.
At Great Ormond Street Hospital, I was a heart and lung transplant pharmacist – looking after critically ill children, an experience that truly shaped my outlook on life. I was then asked to work at the Cromwell Hospital to set up pharmacy services for their new children’s intensive care. Following this, I was Chief Pharmacist at the Wellington Hospital, after which I chose to go into management. I love this new career path – managing people, team building and working on longer-term strategies. Whilst looking after my small children, I wanted to be more flexible and set up my own medical consultancy, advising on operational management and opening new hospital services.
Currently, I am Director of Pharmacy, as well as leading on hospital-wide operational activation at the Cleveland Clinic in London. Cleveland Clinic London is a brand new, fully-automated, state-of-the-art, 200-bed hospital on Grosvenor Place, backing onto Buckingham Palace, and is directly linked to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA. I became involved with it six years ago, first as a consultant and advisor around regulatory governance, clinical operations and medicines, and after two years I became its Clinical Pharmacy Director.
Can you explain how the Cleveland Clinic differs from other hospitals?
The Cleveland is the first newly-built stand-alone hospital in London for over 40 years and combines the best of US healthcare with the best in the UK, its values and purpose closely aligned with those of the NHS. The hospital provides the very latest medical innovations, state-of-the-art technology and is the first hospital to be fully digital, automated, and paperless. As for any other hospital, the patient is at the heart of everything we do. Research and education is well established in Cleveland Clinic’s health system and we partner with NHS trusts and research institutes to realise these programmes. Cleveland Clinic has its own medical school, based in Ohio.
We have recently hired more than 1,000 staff in anticipation of opening our doors in April 2022.
The hospital has eight operating theatres, two endoscopy suites, 30 intensive care beds, imaging facilities, laboratory, pharmacy, day case and outpatient clinics. It offers complex cardiac surgery, including heart transplants, neurosurgery, mainly brain and spine, gastroenterology, orthopaedic and general surgery and neuro-rehabilitation.
The hospital uses state-of-the-art technology. How do you think this technology will help patients and health care professionals?
Our fully-integrated, automated patient health management system is the future of healthcare. We put the patient at the heart of everything we do, with emphasis on improved patient safety.
Let me give you an example of the unique automation our pharmacy uses for this: we have a large robot, unique to the UK, that uses artificial intelligence and laser techniques to produce single unit dose, uniquely barcoded medication, and our systems ensure a final barcode medication safety check at the patient’s bedside before administering the drug.
By controlling medication dispensing and doing bedside checks in this way, we aim to tackle a global healthcare problem – bedside medication administration errors. This will improve patient outcomes, such as reduced morbidity, readmissions, and returns to theatre, as well as reducing pharmaceutical wastage, making operational and cost savings, and preventing medical negligence litigation.
This unique ‘closed loop medication administration system’ ensures we can always adhere to ‘The 6 Rights of Medication’: right patient, right medication, right dose, right route, right time, and right documentation.
But our innovation plans do not stop there. For example, once the hospital is open, we are excited to start working on implementing a Pharmacogenomics service, whereby we aim to optimise patients’ treatment by taking into account their genetic makeup, and how this plays a role in their response to medication.
What has it been like trying to set up a new hospital during a pandemic?
Almost everything has been a challenge! Even before the pandemic we had Brexit which affected our supply chains and saw many European tradespeople return home, leaving us with a shortage of workers. From trying to recruit staff, continue the build and organise supplies while working from home; via issues with vaccinations, Covid infections and isolation, particularly for our people coming from abroad; to not even being able to get our tiles and printers from China, the pandemic affected everything.
It was difficult and sometimes frustrating to have a hospital that was only half ready and not able to offer ICU beds to patients who needed them so much during the pandemic. Quite a few of us returned to the NHS as volunteers to support the pandemic efforts. I became a volunteer vaccinator at our local Health Centre most Saturdays; during the 2021 winter and spring period I vaccinated around 1,200 patients.
However, there is always a solution! Through teamwork, agility, flexibility and resourcefulness, we found a way to set up the Cleveland Clinic. And although we couldn’t open in April 2021, we will now open in April 2022.
What advice would you give current students considering a career in pharmacology and related studies?
Be open to learning and keep up to date with latest scientific evidence. Expect the unexpected. Be curious. Be open to technological developments and innovation. Try to get practical hospital work experience, and network. Follow your dreams and interests – and never give up.
What is your proudest moment?
Opening the Cleveland Clinic London of course! But that is on a par with raising two fabulous children, one adopted from Khabarovsk in Eastern Siberia.
What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?
I love playing the flute for relaxation, both in small ensembles and orchestras, so I would probably be a flautist with a major orchestra, learning the cello on the side. I had to choose between being a professional musician and following a career in healthcare – you know the rest!
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you and why?
An SAS survival manual, a portable desalination plant, and a recording of my family speaking as part of my BBC Desert Island Discs!