The boss of the region's beleaguered mental health trust is retiring with immediate effect.

Eastern Daily Press: Michael Scott, CEO of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture : ANTONY KELLYMichael Scott, CEO of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture : ANTONY KELLY (Image: archant 2017)

Michael Scott became CEO at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) in 2014, he took over from Aidan Thomas, who helped oversee the radical redesign in the trust's services in 2013 which included plans to reduce mental health beds by 20pc.

But in February 2015 NSFT was the first mental health trust in the country to be plunged into special measures by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The trust recently had its third inspection and NSFT chair Gary Page said as they 'await the inspection report, Michael feels now is the appropriate time for a new leader to take forward the recommendations that will follow in order to continue to improve our trust.'

The CQC published a damning report into the service in 2015, including concerns about the safety of services, staffing levels and leadership.

The same year, this newspaper launched our Mental Health Watch campaign to push for better services in the region.

It was later lifted out of the rating but CQC returned earlier this year, with a report on the trust's current performance due to be released in coming weeks.

For years the trust has been plagued by problems including patients being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment, long waiting times, and high numbers of unexpected deaths.

In March last year Mr Scott said progress had been made, although not as quickly as he'd hoped.

By October, the trust had been lifted out of special measures and was rated as 'requires improvement' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The safety of the trust's care remained rated as 'inadequate' after the CQC's inspectors highlighted numerous issues such as:

• The high number of deaths at the trust;

• Insufficient staffing levels at inpatient units and in community teams;

• Potential risks to patients on wards;

• A lack of available beds.

But it was rated 'good' for being caring and Mr Scott said the trust was incredibly proud of the progress made.

Inspectors said there had been 'significant improvements' at the NSFT, but highlighted a staff shortage as a concern.

In February this year, NSFT was featured on the BBC's Panorama and Mr Scott expressed disappointment that his trust was the only one presented as an example of the 'difficult issues being faced throughout the country in mental health services'.

In July, Mr Scott told this newspaper things were moving in the right direction at the trust.

He said: 'We're not there yet, but it feels that locally we're now pushing on a more open door, and we are all pushing together, as the national agenda has finally shifted.'

Mr Scott announced his retirement today, Thursday.

Julie Cave, NSFT deputy chief executive and director of finance, will become interim chief executive until further notice, subject to the approval by NSFT's council of governors next month.

The NSFT Board expressed its thanks to him for his commitment and determination to improve the trust for the benefit of service users, carers, and staff.

Mr Page said: 'It has been a privilege to work with someone of Michael's calibre and integrity, and we wish him a well-deserved retirement.

'As he leaves our trust, we are in a financially stronger position, with improved service user and carer feedback and improved staff morale. Mental health is now top of the local and national agenda and our STPs are showing strong progress in the mental health work streams.

'We are beginning to develop and roll out important new and enhanced services, including the improved West Norfolk acute care pathway, a regional mother and baby unit, and the new community perinatal services, in both Norfolk and Suffolk.

'There are, however, many challenges that lie ahead of our trust and, as a board we are determined to ensure that local mental health services continue to improve in what we all recognise is an increasingly demanding environment in the NHS and in social care.'

Mr Scott, who turns 60 soon, is shortly to mark 25 years as a CEO in the NHS and 40 years in public service.

On announcing his retirement he said: 'The role of chief executive is one where there is always important work to lead, challenge to overcome and improvements to drive ahead, and I feel the time is now right for a new leader to take on that mantle.

'I will remain committed to the NHS, and will always be a champion of NSFT and of improving mental health.

'I am proud of what has been achieved by the dedicated staff at NSFT over the past three-and-a-half years. I would like to thank my colleagues across health and social care for their collective hard work, and for the fact that every day they do the very best job they can to support the people who need our services.'

A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: 'We have long been calling for a new board and management culture at NSFT which puts patients and carers first and foremost and genuinely engages with front line staff.

'Michael Scott's sudden retirement could represent the beginning of an opportunity to turn around mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. But new management is not enough - mental health services have to be properly resourced as well as competently managed. Our politicians need to make sure that local commissioners and NHS England need to step up to provide enough money, beds and staff for decent mental health services.

'For service users, carers and staff to have any faith in the leadership of the new interim chief executive of NSFT, we need Julie Cave to accept the CQC's findings.

'We fear that Michael Scott's departure precedes the publication of a new and devastating CQC report in the next few days. We do not believe that Michael Scott's departure alone will be sufficient to stop the rot and the NHS and government needs to commit to doing everything to put matters right at NSFT, the people of Norfolk and Suffolk have been let down and ignored for far too long.'