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Retired CEO to lead trust with ‘deep-seated’ cultural problems

Published on: 11 May 2022

A trust found by a review to have ‘multiple’ corporate governance problems and ‘deep-seated’ cultural issues has appointed a recently retired chief executive as its new chair.

Tavistock and Portman Foundation Trust has announced John Lawlor will take over in June from Paul Burstow, who is stepping down at the end of a second term.

Mr Lawlor, whose NHS career spanned 37 years, was chief executive of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear FT from June 2014 until his retirement in January earlier this year.

Under his leadership, the organisation became one of the first mental health trusts in the country to be rated “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission before achieving the rating again in 2018.

Previously, he worked in central NHS roles and led both acute provider trusts and NHS commissioning organisations.

TPFT commissioned an external firm to look into its leadership following a concerted period of intense scrutiny in late 2021, with its findings published in the trust’s January board papers.

The report, completed by the Office of Modern Governance, praised the trust’s board for being “cohesive” and having a “consistent focus on the delivery of high quality care and the provision of education and training”.

However, it also identified several “deep-seated” cultural issues, among which was a reluctance from staff to speak up about concerns in light of a high-profile safeguarding employment tribunal.

Reviewers also described having observed a “lack of challenge and effective scrutiny” of the trust’s executives by its non-executive directors, “and not enough evidence of holding to account”.

The same board papers also revealed Mr Burstow, who is also chair designate of Hertfordshire and West Essex integrated care system, intended to step down in April of this year.

TPFT has been the subject of significant controversy over its specialist gender identity development service for children and young people, which the CQC rated “inadequate” following an inspection in October and November 2020.

While NHS England has commissioned an independent review into children and young people’s gender identity services, which is ongoing, an interim report has already raised significant issues.

Mr Burstow said in a statement: “It has been a privilege to have served as chair of such an iconic organisation for the past six and a half years.

“I am delighted to be passing the baton to such an experienced and capable new chair for the trust. I am confident that the future of the organisation is in good hands.”

Mr Lawlor said he was “very excited” at the opportunity to take up the role.

He added: “The trust has a long and distinguished role in the development of mental health services and training in this country and internationally.

“I look forward to working with the board, governors and staff, as well as our partners in the [North Central London] integrated care system, to help the trust make a relevant and effective contribution to improving mental health and wellbeing.”