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Former nursing chief drafted in to chair trust at centre of merger row

Published on: 4 May 2022

The former chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has been appointed chair of a small specialist trust involved in a controversial proposed merger.

Jackie Smith will take up her new role at Queen Victoria Hospital Foundation Trust in July. QVH, which is based in East Grinstead in West Sussex, is exploring a merger with University Hospitals Sussex FT. The move has been opposed by a majority of governors and some consultants.

Ms Smith will be QVH’s third chair in less than a year. Beryl Hobson stood down last autumn. She was due to be replaced by former Royal College of Nursing chief executive Peter Carter, but he had to withdraw because of ill health. Instead seasoned NHS trouble-shooter Dr Anita Donley was drafted in as interim chair. 

Ms Smith is currently chair of Camden and Islington FT, and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, which have recently carried out a joint services review. Ms Smith has been chair at BEH for just over a year and Camden and Islington for more than two. 

Ms Smith said: “I am very much looking forward to joining QVH. The hospital has an outstanding reputation for clinical outcomes delivered with compassion and care, and I can see that everybody involved is passionate about securing the hospital for the long term. I understand something of the challenges that QVH is facing and I look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure those challenges are navigated in a way that brings further benefits for patients and staff.

“It is sad to be leaving my current role as joint chair, but the partnership between the two trusts has already achieved a lot and the two organisations have a very exciting future together.”

A recent report highlighted a breakdown in relationships between the board and governors at the QVH and suggested the trust had not won “hearts and minds” for the proposed merger.

Camden and Islington and BEH said that they were working on interim board leadership arrangements and would start the process of appointing a new chair as soon as possible. In a message to staff, Ms Smith said working at QVH would allow her to be closer to her family. 

Ms Smith was chief executive of the NMC from 2011 to 2018. She announced her resignation shortly before the publication of a review into how the regulator had handled cases involved midwives from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay FT.

A 2015 inquiry had found there was a “dysfunctional culture” among some midwives at the trust, which was heavily criticised over unnecessary baby deaths.