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Dame Ruth May is set to retire as chief nursing officer for England later this year. Serving since January 2019, she succeeded Jane Cummings and also holds the position of national director for infection prevention and control.

With nearly 40 years in the NHS, she began her nursing training in 1985, eventually becoming a theatre sister at Frimley Park Hospital before assuming the role of chief executive of the hospital trust.

In a message to staff, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Throughout her career, Ruth has worked tirelessly to nurture the next generations of NHS nursing and midwifery leaders and to support nurses, nursing associates, midwives and healthcare support staff to do their very best for their patients and families.

“This was never more important, and more visible, than during the pandemic, when Ruth led the nursing and midwifery professions’ response, for which I am enormously grateful. But Ruth has also worked effectively behind the scenes to secure real improvements for staff and patients, such as dedicated funding for CPD, the reinstatement of maintenance grants for learners, and delivering the 50k Nurses programme.”

And a separate departure means the NHS has lost one of its most experienced mental health chiefs, who has stepped down after 10 years of leading her organisation.

Melanie Walker has left Devon Partnership Trust following a period in which she was on sick leave due to suffering a rare heart condition last year.

Ms Walker, who was given an MBE for services to the NHS in 2019, told HSJ she was not leaving due to her condition (SCAD) – from which she is now fully recovered – but she acknowledged the life-threatening experience had made her “stop and think”.

Reflecting on the current state of the mental health sector, she said much progress had been made on access and standards but she warned improvements are needed to treat seriously unwell mental health patients.

This was epitomised by the “shocking” lack of capital funding for mental health trusts, she said – which left providers a long way off creating therapeutic care environments.

She also cautioned that system-level conversations about mental health tended to focus too much on getting mental health patients out of A&E faster, rather than focusing on putting in place better care for even more acutely ill patients suffering in the community.

Ms Walker will be missed by the NHS. However, she said she may look for opportunities to rejoin the health service when she decides she has had a sufficient career break.

Also on today

In The Download, Joe Talora sets out what we learned from the unredacted Federated Data Platform contract, and we report that the New Hospital Programme team has faced issues recruiting to internal roles and recently had a 50 per cent vacancy rate.