I am a writer, coach and mental health campaigner.
I joined the NHS in 1973, spent the first half of my career as a nurse and a health visitor, and the latter half in NHS management, including 13 years running Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. I didn’t get everything right as a chief executive, but I did become known for challenging the stigma of mental illness, promoting evidence based practice and research through partnerships with academic institutions, particularly the University of Sussex, and for our ground breaking work on equality, diversity and human rights.
In 2012, I was awarded a CBE for services to the NHS. In 2013, I announced my plans to retire the following year, and then surprised friends and colleagues by coming out about my own experiences of depression since aged 15. A few weeks later, I was hit with my worst ever depressive episode. With help, I managed to go back to work in January 2014. I am deeply grateful to them and my wonderful work colleagues for supporting me in my final 8 months at the trust, and giving me a warm send-off in the summer of 2014 into my new world.
I now use my understanding of stigma, including self-stigma, to raise awareness and reduce the negativity that are still associated with mental illness. I write, speak at conferences and via the broadcast media. You can listen to me here on the Insiders Guide to Mental Health clips from BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind.
I coach executives from the public and charitable sectors, usually when they have arrived at some sort of career or personal crossroads. I also coach clinical leaders via the Darzi Fellow programme. I contribute to the NHS Leadership Academy Programme for NHS managers, and offer mentoring to some of the trainees in a voluntary capacity. I use Myers Briggs and other psychological tools to help those I work with to develop increased understanding of themselves and the impact they have on others – what is these days called emotional intelligence.
I volunteer with Samaritans and help to run my local branch, Brighton, Hove and District Samaritans. Recently I chaired a Time to Change project aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness experienced within health services – you can read more about it here.
I am indebted to immigrant people who have dedicated clinical careers to helping people in countries other than their own, including the UK. This is why. Mary Seacole’s statue was unveiled in 2016 as a symbol of strength in adversity and of courage to keep going despite setbacks. I am now Vice Chair of the Mary Seacole Trust. Our aim is to inspire people through her extraordinary story.
I have qualifications in adult nursing, child nursing, and health visiting, a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Public Sector Management.
My book Being an NHS Chief Executive: what they never told me (or if they did I wasn’t listening) is out now. You can buy it here.