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Leading trust chief announces retirement

Published on: 14 Oct 2021

One of the NHS’ most renowned chief executives is announcing her retirement this lunchtime, HSJ has learned.

Dame Marianne Griffiths, chief executive of University Hospitals Sussex Foundation Trust, was due to tell staff imminently.

She has been named HSJ’s chief executive of the year twice and guided Western Sussex Hospitals FT through a merger with the troubled Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust.

She took over as chief of BSUH, in addition to Western Sussex, in 2017, and its Care Quality Commission rating has since been upgraded from “inadequate” to “good”. However, problems remain in Brighton, and the CQC made an unannounced inspection of its surgery and maternity services last month, following a letter from senior doctors to Dame Marianne which was leaked to HSJ.

The doctors warned some services were in an “extremely unsafe situation” with delays to the treatment of time-critical emergency and trauma cases, repeated cancellations of urgent surgery and staff who were burnt out and suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression.

HSJ understands the feedback from the CQC highlighted the staffing challenges faced by the trust.

In a letter to staff she said: “By the time I hang up my lanyard, I will have been chief executive of UHSussex and its predecessor organisations for almost 14 years. It has been, without doubt, the most rewarding chapter of my career by far – working alongside you all to improve the lives of the people we care for.

“There is never an ideal time for any of us to go. The job is never finished; there’s always more we can and must do. 

“However, writing this next chapter is a long-term job, so it’s better that we have in place someone who can steer it from start to finish rather than have me carry on and step aside halfway through.”

Dame Marianne will retire in June. She led Western Sussex through a period when it become one of a tiny number of acute hospitals to be rated “outstanding” before the merger last April.

However, the BSUH end of the combined trust has remained problematic. A major redevelopment of the Royal Sussex is understood to have soared past its original cost of £487m and is years behind schedule. It is difficult to disentangle performance at the former BSUH hospitals from Western Sussex, as most data is published on a trust-wide basis, but in August the trust saw just 63.6 per cent of type one A&E patients discharged, treated or admitted within four hours and had 22 12-hour “trolley waits”.

Nearly 100,000 people were waiting for treatment in July, with 18-week performance at 61 per cent and two specialties – neurosurgery and general surgery – recording performance in the 40 per cents.

There has also been opposition to a mooted merger of the tiny Queen Victoria Hospital FT with UHSussex. A majority in the QVH’s council of governors had called for a pause in progress towards the merger and doctors recently expressed no confidence in the QVH’s chief executive.

UHSussex chairman Alan McCarthy said: “Marianne would say that the success of our hospitals has been built on teamwork and the fantastic commitment and support of colleagues throughout the trust, but outstanding organisations have outstanding leaders and she is definitely one of them.”

The trust is expected to start the search for a successor immediately, with the aim of a handover period before Dame Marianne stands down.

Before joining West Sussex she was deputy chief executive of the South East Coast Strategic Health Authority, and previously chief of Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority.

Meanwhile, HSJ understands Pete Landstrom, chief delivery and strategy officer at UHSussex, is to leave for a job in London and Denise Farmer, chief culture and organisational development officer, who had come out of retirement to help with the merger, is to step down. Neither departure is linked to the CQC inspection.