Enable more AHPs and physios to become clinical leaders

NHS organisations should increase the professional diversity of their senior staff, by offering more strategic leadership roles to allied health professionals (AHPs) such as physiotherapists.

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The guide sets out a framework that aims to improve professional diversity at senior levels

This is one of the messages in a new guide, Clinical leadership – a framework for action, published by NHS Improvement today.

The guide looks at how existing structures and expectations may restrict AHPs, doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, and other clinicians and suggests ways to make it easier for them to contribute their skills to strategic leadership.

It also aims to address one of the priorities in the NHS Long Term Plan, which highlighted a need to nurture new leaders and enable capable clinicians, from every professional background, to reach the most senior levels of leadership.

Diversity improves performance

Commenting on the guide, CSP chief executive Karen Middleton said: ‘In order to deliver the Long Term Plan we need greater levels of clinical leadership and a more diverse range of leaders.

‘We know that professional diversity at a strategic level increases the performance of an organisation. Having leaders from a broad range of backgrounds, with varying clinical experiences, ensures a wider, more holistic perspective. It encourages innovation, enhances opportunities for collaborative working and helps organisations to avoid groupthink.

‘Increasing levels of AHP leadership will also improve patient care, as it will lead to a stronger focus on rehabilitation, self-management and promoting independence.

‘This framework should open the door for more physiotherapists to step forward, take the lead and share their strategies for change.’

Building confidence and identifying barriers

The guide recommends practical levers for building confidence, managing talent and widening leadership opportunities for all types of clinicians.

These include suggestions that senior leaders should

  • identify the levels at which different clinical professions tend to ‘hit a ceiling’ within the organisation and investigate the possible causes
  • hold board or system leadership workshops, using the framework as a guide, to agree priorities and strategies for increasing professional diversity at senior levels
  • nominate executive and non-executive leads at organisation and system level to champion a clinical leadership agenda
  • run internal multidisciplinary meetings or focus groups to explore the framework and find out what staff think are the greatest opportunities

Leadership informed by a physio background

The framework includes a series of case studies that describe the career progressions of a range of clinicians who now hold senior leadership roles.

These include Shane DeGaris, group deputy chief executive officer at Barts Health NHS Trust, who originally trained and worked as a physiotherapist.

His change of career began while he was working as a superintendent physiotherapist and was asked to take on a head of therapies role, due to a senior colleague’s maternity leave.

‘An opportunity then arose to cover another maternity leave role as general manager in the medical directorate. I then progressed to assistant director of operations, director of operations, chief operating officer, deputy chief executive officer and then before my current role, I was the chief executive at Hillingdon Hospitals,’ he explains.

‘I made decisions to move laterally, sometimes at a lower or protected grade, to continue to make a difference for many more patients than the ones I treated individually as a physiotherapist.

‘The key to my success was that I sought out and needed support from within my trust(s) to do this. While I have not worked clinically for several years, my clinical background is a very important part of my journey and the leader I am today.'

Top tips for securing leadership roles

In the guide, Mr DeGaris offers advice for other clinicians keen to take on clinical leadership roles.

His top tips are:

  • ensure you gain operational experience.
  • talk to key/influential people within the organisation and tell them your ambitions
  • find others who have followed a similar path to the one you want to embark on
  • try to get onto one of the mainstream programmes (e.g. an aspiring COO programme)

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