Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust | Rhiannon Smith

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In late 2019 we were asked by the Chair of Southern Health, Lynne Hunt, to support the Trust in the recruitment of a new Chief Executive.

A community and mental health provider with services across the south of England, Southern Health has a challenging legacy around the quality of their service provision, clinical engagement and work with service users, family caregivers and stakeholders. In the two years prior they had made significant improvements and successfully moved out of special measures and from a CQC rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ to an overall ‘Good’ in 2019.

Dr Nick Broughton, the outgoing Chief Executive, had previously held a Chief Executive post in Somerset and had been at Southern Health for 18 months before deciding to move to Oxford Healthcare, which is much closer to his home. Dr Broughton had made a positive impact – especially with clinicians – and had helped move the Trust forward but there was still much more to do and so his departure came at a critical time and the Trust was keen to appoint an experienced or senior aspirant Chief Executive who could inspire and incentivise staff to continue on their journey of improvement towards becoming an ‘Outstanding’ organisation.


While we had worked with the Trust before, on the appointment of an entirely new Non Executive team, we had not done so for several years so we needed to ensure we had a strong, current understanding of the Trust’s improvement and transformation journey, their vision and values as well as the overarching organisational culture. Our next priority was to make sure that we had a really detailed understanding of the type of person they wanted for the job, in terms of their behaviours, demeanour, approach and values.


We spoke to a large number of key stakeholders – within the Trust, across the wider system and within NHSE/I. They told us that the new CEO would need to have a high degree of political acumen as well as a strong track record of working effectively with a diverse group of internal and external stakeholders. They also said that the individual would need to embody the Trust’s values and demonstrate a high level of integrity, authenticity and emotional intelligence. Beyond this, there was a fair degree of “noise” in the wider system around the potential for merger and integration – one of the original “solutions” to the problems at Southern Health had been a break-up of the Trust, something the Board and Governors were keen to avoid in the short-term, believing that more work was needed to embed change and improvement before any structural change could be attempted; so the new CEO was going to have to be extremely good at system – as well as organisational – leadership and was going to have to be credible in both spaces. What became clear was that the Trust wanted and needed, in the words of their Chair: “more of the same and something completely different”.


Our shortlist comprised a diverse group of experienced executives from a range of organisations:

  • A recently retired Chief Executive of a neighbouring mental health and community Trust
  • A current Chief Executive of a community health partnership
  • A GP and Executive Director of Performance and Commercial Development
  • A clinical psychiatrist and Medical Director
  • A former Chief Executive of a Community and Acute Trust recently returned from overseas

The successful candidate, Ron Shields, is an established Chief Executive who has almost 20 years’ experience as a Chief Executive working across acute, community and mental health organisations.

Rhiannon Smith

Director of Insight & Managing Partner

Mobile: 07860 773860


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