NHS West Essex chief executive bows out after 15 years

NHS WEST ESSEX chief executive Aidan Thomas leaves the organisation this week to embark on a new career as chief executive to the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Foundation Trust. Aidan has been at the forefront of healthcare in west Essex for 15 years.

NHS WEST ESSEX chief executive Aidan Thomas leaves the organisation this week to embark on a new career as chief executive to the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Foundation Trust.

Aidan has been at the forefront of healthcare in west Essex for 15 years. He originally joined Essex and Herts Community Services which became a Trust, and then Epping Forest Primary Care Group, Epping Forest Primary Care Trust and latterly West Essex PCT.

He said: "These years have included some of the happiest and most rewarding of my career and, despite the organisational changes, the fact is that many community nurses and therapists, staff at St Margaret's, and at Saffron Walden Hospital and GPs have remained colleagues throughout."

He added: "There have been huge changes to local services - in some cases they have been transformed - staffing levels in most of our community services are now much higher than they were then, there were no community support team (intermediate care) then, and far less therapy support. Many more services are now provided in community settings and GP practices.


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"Services are much more focussed on keeping people out of hospital. On any one day 15 years ago as many as 90 west Essex residents were waiting to get home from Essex and Herts Trust - now the average is usually in single figures."

Reflecting on his time in west Essex, Aidan highlighted the major developments of facilities, including new community clinics such as Waltham Abbey and Loughton Hall, the new Epping Forest Unit at St Margaret's, Epping, and the refurbishment of Avocet Ward at Saffron Walden Community Hospital.

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Another relatively recent improvement has been the introduction of self-help support for people with long-term conditions, such as DAFNE, and Breatheasy, and Xpert which have greatly enhanced sufferers ability to care for themselves and stay out of hospital.

"The experience of patients in west Essex has of course improved in other ways too, and not just because of better environments," he said.

"Waiting lists for elective care are much shorter, we have a much bigger range of community-based services, infection rates have reduced almost to zero, and death rates for things like coronary heart disease have reduced significantly.

"The fact is that what is consistent throughout this are the community staff and community hospital staff, GPs, and administrative and commissioning staff. Without their immense commitment and effort and without their willingness to put the patient first, none of these changes would have occurred.

"It is my good fortune to have contributed to what has been achieved. I feel at once sad but proud and also humble to have been part of west Essex."

NHS West Essex chairman Alan Tobias OBE, speaking at last Thursday's Board meeting, paid tribute to Aidan's contributions over the years.

He said: "We owe Aidan a massive debt of gratitude. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with him.

"His dedication to his office and the leadership he has shown to his colleagues has been of immense benefit to the people of West Essex. He has clearly had a profound influence on the health care of the people within our area."

Aidan said: "The NHS organisations in the area have been fantastic. It has been a real pleasure and a privilege and one which I will always remember."

NHS West Essex's new chief executive is Catherine O'Connell.

Catherine was previously the director of atrategy and formerly a locality director for the PCT.

She was instrumental in delivering the PCT's excellent World Class Commissioning score as well as leading the strong relationship with many stakeholders and GP practices.

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