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Nurse to become interim chief exec of struggling mental health trust

Experienced NHS leader and nurse Caroline Donovan will join Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) as interim chief executive later this month, it has been announced.

The trust has faced questions over its performance and leadership in recent years, from regulators and also campaigners and MPs calling for improvements in the quality of mental health data.

“I am committed to listening to, and working with, staff, service users, their carers and families”

Caroline Donovan

Ms Donovan is the former chief executive of Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health and learning disability provider.

She has also been chief executive at North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, which was rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission under her leadership.

Her interim appointment at Norfolk and Suffolk will begin on 23 October and last for 12 months, noted the trust in a statement.

NSFT is currently rated ‘requires improvement’ overall by the CQC and also for being safe, effective, responsive and well-led. It is, however, rated ‘good’ for being caring.

However, it has previously been put into special measures and rated ‘inadequate’ by the CQC on multiple occasions since 2014.

The trust has also experienced a lack of continuity in leadership in recent times, with Ms Donovan set to become its fifth chief executive in just five years.

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Ms Donovan will replace Stuart Richardson, who became NSFT chief executive in 2021. His departure follows a critical report on mortality reporting and recording at the trust, published in June.

It highlighted problems including inconsistent reporting, insufficient information for the trust to meaningfully categorise deaths and problems with consistency and data in language nationally.

The review – Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s Mortality Recording and Reporting – was undertaken by Grant Thornton for the trust’s two regional integrated care boards.

But, as well as the data problems, a BBC investigation broadcast in August found earlier edits of the report had included criticism of the trust’s leadership that were absent from the final version.

Commenting on her appointment as chief executive, Ms Donovan said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to lead NSFT.

“I am committed to listening to, and working with, staff, service users, their carers and families, and partners as we continue to build on the improvements already underway across the trust.

“Together, with Norfolk and Suffolk health and care partners we will join up and transform the specialist mental health and learning disability services local communities use and need.

“I look forward to taking up the post later this month,” added Ms Donovan.

Chief executive

Caroline Donovan

NSFT is a large mental health trust, with key sites at Hellesdon Hospital, Norvic and Juilan Hospital in Norwich, Northgate in Great Yarmouth, and Carlton Court in Lowestoft

It was formed by a merger of Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust with Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust on 1 January 2012.

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Trust chair Zoë Billingham said: “I am delighted to confirm Caroline’s appointment. She brings vast experience of quality improvement, transformation and leadership to our trust which is critical as we continue to work towards consistently delivering safe, excellent care to all those who need us.”

In July this year, the trust also appointed a new nursing director, Tumi Banda, who replaced Diane Hull at the start of August.

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