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Light-touch scrutiny during covid gave ‘freedom’ to improve, says retiring CEO

Published on: 23 Aug 2022

The chief executive of a mental health trust which was recently released from special measures is to retire next year after more than 40 years in the NHS.

Sheffield Health and Social Care Foundation Trust has announced Jan Ditheridge will stay on through winter, with the trust planning to appoint a successor to replace her from April 2023.

SHSC was placed in special measures in April 2020 shortly after Ms Ditheridge joined the organisation. However, after making significant improvements, the Care Quality Commission upgraded the trust’s rating from inadequate to requires improvement in May 2021, praising the executive team and board. 

The trust was then moved out of segment four of the system oversight framework, the new performance framework which replaced the special measures regime, earlier this year, in a further major boost for the provider.

Ms Ditheridge, a mental health nurse before entering management, joined the trust just before the pandemic hit. Before moving north, she had led Shropshire Community Health Trust for seven years, taking the organisation to a good CQC rating.

She told HSJ: “The support and scrutiny [during covid] we received because of special measures was helpful and probably different from past support [and] inspection regimes because of the pandemic and certainly allowed us the freedom to make the improvements unhampered by excessive process or many reassessments too quickly.

“I hope this approach will be continued to support challenged organisations in the future.”

Ms Ditheridge said leadership, engagement and safe staffing “were probably the most important” areas she had focused on, in addition to estates.

The CQC warned in 2020 that areas of the trust estate were not fit for purpose, including dormitory accommodation and seclusion areas that were not comfortable or dignified. In the last two years the trust has upgraded wards at its Michael Carlisle Centre and is moving its headquarters to modern facilities closer to service users.

Ms Ditheridge said: “The other area that we worked really hard on, which was an absolute mission, was our estate, which was truly awful. We’ve still got more work to do, but it’s significantly improved. And that was driving, I think, poor care.”

Ms Ditheridge said she was confident the trust’s improvement journey would continue following her departure. She said: “Our chair is really clear on the job in the next stage… I think this is an exciting place, where we’re well into our transformation programme, we’re well into our back to good programme – and the next person will see a lot of those results.”

SHSC chair Sharon Mays said: “I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Jan for her commitment and leadership during her time working for the NHS, and in her role here at SHSC, and to acknowledge everything that she has achieved.

“When she leaves us, Jan will have been a chief executive for almost ten years and, during her time in that role at SHSC, her commitment, drive and energy have helped bring forward so many good outcomes for SHSC. She has guided the organisation through challenging and unprecedented times, including steering us through a worldwide pandemic and helping us emerge from special measures.”