TRIBUTES have been paid to Karen Bell, former chief executive of Huntingdonshire Primary Care Trust and CEO of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mental health trust, who died of cancer on June 9, aged 57.

Diana Jakubowska, the trust's head of communications, said: "Karen Bell was a person with huge passion to improve the lives of local people.

"Karen's career began as a human resources professional, and she worked in many senior roles in the public sector throughout Cambridgeshire including Cambridge City Council, Cambridge Health Authority, Lifespan Healthcare NHS Trust, Hunts PCT and most recently as chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

"Karen made a significant contribution to the establishment of Cambridge University Health Partnership, an academic health science centre, and this will be a lasting testimony to her hard work and dedication.

"At CPFT, Karen led a radical programme of service transformation that has subsequently been used as a model of how to improve NHS mental health services by trusts throughout the country. She also pioneered the introduction of recovery practice into CPFT, which now leads the way throughout the country in the development of peer workers and recovery oriented services," Mrs Jakubowska said.

"Karen was renowned for her drive to improve leadership and she opened our eyes to what leadership in the NHS is really about. She had a simple philosophy: do the right things for the right reasons. CPFT went from strength to strength under her leadership: Karen was a great champion of mental health, and her commitment to mental health services always shone through."

Her former colleague said tributes to Mrs Bell repeatedly included key words such as passion, inspiration, commitment, integrity, encouragement, visionary, commitment to quality and courage.

"Karen will be missed by her wide circle of colleagues and friends, and she will also be missed by those who never knew her but who benefited from her dedication to improve local services for local people.

"She leaves a fine legacy of which her family and friends can be rightly proud and from which local people will benefit for years to come. The world is a poorer place at her passing but her legacy will endure, her many achievements give us cause to celebrate her life."

Michael Lynch, who was chairman of the Hunts PCT from its formation until shortly before its abolition in 2006, told The Hunts Post: "I consider it a privilege to have worked with one of the best chief executives in the NHS.

"As well as being my chief executive, she became a good friend.

"She will be greatly missed not only by her family but also by the NHS in Cambridgeshire to which she was a long-standing and devoted servant.

"She was a great chief executive, a good 'people person' and an accomplished communicator."

Karen also gave her time to help others including roles as governor of Cambridge Regional College, founder trustee of the Mountain Trust, a charity providing support for basic health and education in the most remote parts of Nepal - a scholarship is being established in her name - president and national council member of the Association of Health Service Human Resource Managers, trustee of the National Children's Bureau and Kare a member of a number of top level Government advisory groups.

She undertook a wide range of international visits and lectures including a series of short-term consultancies to South Africa helping national and provincial governments build top team capacity at its 10 academic teaching hospitals, as a consultant for the Government of Malawi to establish a DIFID funded National AIDS Executive, facilitator for a top management retreat for the Namibian Ministry of Health and keynote speaker at the American Society of Hospital Personnel Practitioners, San Diego, Mrs Jakubowska added.

"Karen was a kind person, who invariably put the needs and wishes of others before her own. At work she was an inspirational leader trusted and admired by those with whom she worked.

"She leaves two much-loved sons, Oliver and Matthew, husband Chris and a strong extended family that was very important to her and which was a huge influence on the way she lived her life."