Skip to main content

Australian CEO returns to lead challenged trust

Published on: 13 Oct 2023

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust has appointed former Medway FT boss Lesley Dwyer as chief executive, HSJ has learned.

Ms Dwyer has a clinical background in nursing and midwifery and was named one of HSJ’s top 50 chief executives in 2018 before her return to Australia. She will take over from Sam Higginson who left to join NHS England’s elective recovery team this summer.

East Suffolk and North East Essex Foundation Trust CEO Nick Hulme has been acting as NNUH CEO on an interim basis since Mr Higginson’s departure in August. He will remain in post until Professor Dwyer joins in “early 2024”.

The trust confirmed Ms Dwyer’s appointment to HSJ and said staff had been informed about the news this morning.

Ms Dwyer was credited with taking Medway FT, then one of the country’s most troubled trusts, out of special measures. The trust was given a good rating in the “well led” domain by the Care Quality Commission.

She was CEO at Medway for nearly four years before she returned to Australia in 2018, to become chief executive of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network. She has spent the last five years working for the organisation, which is the biggest health authority in South Australia with more than 18,000 staff. Ms Dwyer announced she would be leaving when her five year contract ended in November earlier this year.

Before joining Medway, Ms Dwyer was chief executive of West Moreton Hospital and Health Service in Queensland, Australia.

Mr Higginson oversaw NNUH’s removal from special measures in April 2020, but the trust has long struggled with performance and quality challenges. 

The trust began to address some significant long-standing problems, including its lack of an electronic patient record system, poor integration with neighbours and improving capacity, during Mr Higginson’s tenure.

However, there remains much work to do and many of these projects, not least the EPR deployment which is not scheduled until early 2025, are far from complete.

NNUH is among the five trusts with the longest 65-week waiting lists, both in terms of the actual number of patients waiting for care (2,784) and the proportion of its overall list who have been waiting over this benchmark (3.2 per cent), as reported by HSJ yesterday.

NNUH chair Tom Spink said: “Prof Dwyer is a very experienced leader with an exceptional record in the NHS and Australian healthcare system for putting patients and the community at the centre of all decisions.”

Ms Dwyer said in a statement: “I am delighted to be joining Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals as CEO.

“While I do not underestimate the challenge, I know that the staff at NNUH strive to provide exceptional care each and every day and I believe that the experience that I bring from both Australia, and of course the UK, will provide the required leadership, direction and support to deliver on what we say we will do and what we need to do.”

“I am so looking forward to being part of this trust, the wider Norfolk health system and to exploring this beautiful county which I will call home.”