My NHS colleague and friend, Caroline Evans, who has died aged 56, was an occupational therapist who became a senior manager in community services.
Born and brought up in Penrith, Cumbria, Caroline was the daughter of Lorna (nee Mills), a care home matron, and John Sharpe, a policeman. From Queen Elizabeth grammar school she went on to study for an occupational therapy diploma at Liverpool Institute of Higher Education.
Caroline started her career as an occupational therapist at St James’ hospital in Leeds in 1988, before moving to Liverpool, where, in 1995, she became clinical manager at the new Woodlands hospice. She often talked of her pride in setting up a new day hospice with a therapeutic focus for local people.
Following a move to Cumbria, Caroline continued in clinical roles until going into NHS management in 2010. After setting up a new community neuroscience service in 2012, she was promoted rapidly, rising to the position of associate director of operations in community services in North Cumbria.
Caroline brought something very different to senior NHS leadership. While doctors and nurses focus on doing things to and caring for patients, Caroline’s focus, as an occupational therapist, was always on enabling people (she did not use the word patient) to recover. This emphasis on therapy informed her leadership style. She managed more than 1,000 staff, and they all knew they could look to her directly for support. The combination of such an approach with a great sense of humour won her many friends, and her staff rewarded her with their loyalty, hard work and dedication.
Her last achievement in the NHS was to implement eight integrated care communities across North Cumbria. From 2017 she patiently navigated the politics and personalities of the NHS, social care, public health and the voluntary sector in order to come up with an agreed model of care. They went live in 2018. Under Caroline’s leadership in the first year of operation, while national hospital admissions went up, in North Cumbria they went down.
Somehow, among the daily pressure of leading NHS services, Caroline found the time to sit on the Guardian’s public leadership editorial panel, as well as study on one of the NHS leadership academy’s programmes, which would have helped her progress to the very top of the NHS. Tragically, the cancer she had been first diagnosed with in 2006 returned in 2019, and she retired.
Caroline is survived by her husband, Tim, whom she met at a party in Liverpool in 1988 and married in 1990, her daughters, Laura and Louisa, and her parents.