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NHS England lead named CEO of challenged trust

Published on: 1 Nov 2023

A former trust chief who has been working for NHS England on elective recovery is leaving to become CEO of an acute provider in one of England’s most challenged systems.

Sam Higginson has been named CEO of Royal Devon University Healthcare Foundation Trust. He succeeds Suzanne Tracey, who stepped down last year, and interim CEO Paul Roberts.

Mr Higginson’s appointment is subject to the completion of pre-employment checks. He is set to join in January.

He will join RDUH after a few months working in NHSE’s elective recovery team. Prior to joining the team in the summer, he worked as CEO of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals FT for nearly four years.

NNUH was in special measures when Mr Higginson joined in autumn 2019, and he oversaw its removal from the regulatory regime in April 2020, though it continued to struggle with performance.

RDUH is rated “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission and has particularly severe problems with elective recovery and finances.

The trust only declared zero two-year waits this August, more than a year after the national target, and still had 431 patients waiting longer than 78 weeks by the end of September. It is the only trust to continue to operate a Nightingale Hospital since the pandemic, which is now used for elective care.

With a year to date deficit of £28.3m, RDUH has passed its end-of-year target (£28m deficit) resulting in it being off plan by £11m. The trust’s annual income is around £1bn.

Mr Higginson, a former NHSE director of strategic finance who also worked as chief operating officer at Cambridge Hospitals, said: “This is a trust with a strong reputation and a clear strategy for what it wants to achieve for its communities. I am thrilled to be joining RDUH.”

RDUH chair Shan Morgan said: “He brings with him a huge amount of expertise from his previous roles and a strong understanding of the challenges and issues facing the NHS.”

She also paid tribute to outgoing interim CEO Mr Roberts for the “strength and stability he has brought to the trust”.