Meet the Transition Team

Dr Virginia Pearson, Chief Officer for Communities, Public Health, Environment and Prosperity

Dr Virginia Pearson

As Director of Public Health for Devon County Council, I have overall responsibility for helping the Council fulfil its statutory duty for health improvement and reducing health inequality. This means putting health and wellbeing at the heart of our policies and decisions.

After completing my medical training at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I worked in many hospital posts and became a GP Principal in Northampton. I completed my public health specialist training in the South West, which included an appointment as a Lecturer in Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Bristol. I worked for North and East Devon Health Authority as a Consultant in Public Health between 1995 and 1997.

I then became one of the first joint directors of public health in the country, working for Somerset Health Authority and Somerset Social Services, where I was joint Director of Public Health for three years and Chief Executive of South Somerset Primary Care Trust from 2002 to 2006.

In 2007, I became the first Joint Director of Public Health for NHS Devon and Devon County Council and in 2013 was appointed as Devon County Council’s first Director of Public Health.

Since November 2016, I have led a wider team delivering the Council’s responsibilities for Public Health, Planning, Transportation and Environment, Economy Enterprise and Skills, and Communities.

I am a Council member for the Association of Directors of Public Health and their lead for Children and Young People, working on policy with other national organisations such as the Local Government Association, Public Health England and the Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health.

With statutory responsibility for Public Health Nursing, I am very much looking forward to working more closely with colleagues to ensure Devon remains the best place to live and that the health and wellbeing of residents is protected.

Jo Olsson, Chief Officer for Children’s Services

Jo Olsson

I qualified as a social worker in 1979 and have worked in children’s services ever since, in lots of different services, settings and levels, including senior leadership since 2004, before joining Devon County Council in March 2016.

My passion is to improve services to transform children’s lives especially those children who, through no fault of their own, need to rely on services as well as (or sometimes instead of) relying on their families.

I lead systems and partnerships to improve outcomes for children in Devon, especially for vulnerable children, which includes:

  • children whose life chances are undermined by poverty, race, gender, disability, sexual preference or equalities issues
  • children with health problems (emotional, mental, physical and sexual)
  • children who struggle in school or are excluded from school for whatever reason
  • disabled children and those with special educational needs
  • children who need early help to prevent problems emerging or getting worse
  • children subject to a protection plan or a child in need plan
  • children in care, care leavers and adopted/special guardianship children.

I very much look forward to working with Public Health Nursing colleagues to make the most of all our skills, professionalism and experience to do the very best for children and young people in Devon.

Kate Stephens, Head of Public Health Nursing (secondment)

Kate Stephens

I am the Head of Service for the Public Health Nursing Service and registered CQC Manager in Virgin Care, and on a part-time secondment to Devon County Council as Head of Public Health Nursing to help support the transition.

I trained as a State Nurse in London in 1983 and worked on a general medical ward after qualifying, I then trained and worked as a midwife in Plymouth. I commenced my Health Visiting career in 1987 working as a Health Visitor in several inner city and rural areas in Devon and then as a Child Protection Supervisor and Public Health Nursing Team Leader for the South Hams Team. In 2016 I was appointed as the Associate Named Nurse for Safeguarding in ICS Devon.


Tracey Polak, Assistant Director/Consultant of Public Health

Tracey Polak

I am the Assistant Director in Public Health leading on healthcare. With a clinical

background, I have worked as a general nurse, psychiatric nurse and health visitor, all within the south west. Prior to my current role I was a nurse consultant (professional lead) for public health in North Devon and am committed to evidence based practice and professional development.

I am leading on clinical governance and professional issues relating to the transition, helped by Gail Barker

Having transferred from the NHS to local authority in 2013 I have a good understanding of the opportunities that exist and am excited to be working in such an important area.


Jon Richards, Senior Commissioning Officer, Public Health Devon

Jon Richards

I was trained as a Social Worker (many years ago at Plymouth Polytechnic) and worked as a children’s Social Worker and Youth Justice Worker. For ten years I managed the multi-agency Youth Offending Team in North and West Devon, which included health, education, police and probation staff alongside social workers. During that time, I designed and oversaw the development of Y-Smart, the Devon young people’s substance misuse service, before moving into a series of commissioning roles within Devon County Council.

I was the County Council Project Lead for the transfer of Integrated Children’s Services to Virgin Care in 2013, working closely with NHS colleagues to arrange a safe transfer of staff and services. For the last three years, I have worked for Public Health Devon as the commissioning lead for Public Health Nursing.

My role over the transition period will be once again to support the safe transfer of staff and services, as well as developing the opportunities for closer partnership working with other Council services, whilst maintaining the core activities and wider health linkages of Health Visitors and School Nurses.

Gail Barker, Advanced Public Health Practitioner

Gail Barker

As part of the project lead team, my role is to support the wider project team where possible and appropriate, and to link with Tracey regarding clinical governance. This includes undertaking bespoke pieces of work that join up the public health agenda with the Public Health Nursing transition.

I began my nurse training in 1992 and qualified as a nurse in 1995. I then worked in Leeds, Hertfordshire and Cheshire in a variety of acute NHS hospital trusts, largely within intensive care as a Nursing Sister. On returning to Devon I undertook my Specialist Community Public Health Nursing degree and worked as a Health Visitor initially with NHS Devon and then with Virgin Care. In September 2017, I moved to my current role as Advanced Public Health Practitioner in Devon County Council with Public Health Devon. This gave me the opportunity to take a wider strategic view and therefore influence on children and young people’s health.

I am fortunate to have my background as a health visitor, and during this time I also qualified as a practice teacher and a lactation consultant. For those of you who know me, you will be very aware of how passionate I am about the Public Health Nursing role, and it will come as no surprise that I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to support and, where practical, inform the transition of such a skilled group of professionals over to Devon County Council.