Thursday, 03 September 2015

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Top job beckons

THE boss of one of Cumbria’s biggest health trusts has spoken for the first time about his decision to leave.

Stephen Dalton: ‘What I have really enjoyed here in Cumbria is the whole foundation trust ethos’

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is currently responsible for all of the county’s community and mental health services.

He recently announced he will stand down on December 1 to take on a new role – one which will see him campaign on a national level on behalf of those with mental illness.

As the new chief executive of the Mental Health Network, an organisation he has long had an involvement with, he believes he can make a real difference to improving the lives of those with mental illness by getting politicians, health trusts and charities to work together.

As a former mental health nurse who has largely risen through the ranks in this field, it is a subject he says he feels passionately about and a job he felt compelled to apply for.

But he also accepts he is leaving his current post at a crucial time, with significant change underway across the NHS locally and nationally, and major challenges of ever-tightening budgets on the horizon.

“I’ve said it before, that I believe 2013 is going to be a crucial year,” he said. “As a trust we need to play our part but our success is going to be based on the success of the whole health care system in Cumbria. There is a lot of change ahead – the acquisition of the hospitals in north Cumbria, difficulties in the south and GPs taking a new leadership role. Although we are relatively stable now, we could be destabilised. New partnerships need to be formed and we need to do things differently.

“So yes, there was an enormous temptation to stay here and see things through.”

That said, Mr Dalton believes he is leaving a trust that has come along way since he arrived nine years ago and is in good shape to deal with what’s ahead. A key part of that was securing coveted Foundation Trust status in 2007, giving it more freedom but also making the board directly answerable to the communities it serves.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. For me what I have really enjoyed here in Cumbria is the whole foundation trust ethos with its members and governors, creating greater democracy in the NHS,” he said.

“The quality of care we provide is good but we could always do better. Some things we do especially well and some require greater attention. In that sense it’s not a job that is ever going to be finished.”

Mr Dalton, who is now 55, stressed that he wouldn’t have left for any other position.

Originally from Merseyside, a large part of his career has been spent in that area, working his way up from clinical jobs to managerial roles.

But it is Cumbria he now classes as his adopted home and, he says he has no intention of moving away.

He added: “I wouldn’t have taken this on lightly. It’s a real privilege and a rare opportunity.

“One of the things that is of particular interest to me is addressing what many have called the scandal of poor physical health of those with long-term mental illness.

“It’s still the case, in the 21st century, that people with mental health problems have a life expectancy 15 to 20 years less than the rest of the population. If that was any other group of society I think people would be astonished,” he said.

“We have done a lot locally to start addressing this but it is something that needs to be focused on at a national level. It feels like the right time for me, that I will be able to draw on many years of experience.”

On December 1 Mr Dalton will hand over the reigns to his deputy of nine years, Sarah Senior, who will be interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is appointed. He added that he was confident he is leaving behind a strong team who share his vision to improve health across Cumbria.



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