Why we must invest now in professionally diverse leadership

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Stuart Palma, Professional Head of Allied Health Professions at NHS Improvement, reflects on the importance of investing in professionally diverse leadership teams.

Trusts are keen to develop the role of a chief allied health professional (AHP). More than 65 have contacted us in the past six months for help with assessing their AHP leadership structures. Now we have published Clinical leadership — a framework for action: a guide for senior leaders on developing professional diversity at board level, which discusses ways trusts can encourage more clinicians from all disciplines to pursue senior strategic leadership positions. 

The guide and framework reaffirm recommendations in our report Leadership of allied health professions in trusts: what exists and what matters, published in June 2018, that trusts consider appointing a senior strategic AHP lead. They offer further evidence that leadership teams should reflect the breadth and diversity of the services they are there to provide.  

Key messages from the guide include:

  • professionally diverse teams are better equipped to meet the complex challenges facing the NHS
  • organisations can and should do more to actively involve clinicians in their leadership groups
  • there are many examples of how organisations can encourage more clinicians from all disciplines to pursue senior strategic leadership positions.  

We developed the framework with clinicians, exploring the barriers they encountered when moving into senior leadership positions. It is part of a wider programme responding to the government’s report, Barriers and enablers for clinicians moving into senior leadership roles: review report

I encourage AHPs to use the framework and guide, as well as our June 2018 report, to talk to their executive leadership teams about establishing chief AHP roles in trusts. Effective, diverse clinical leadership is crucial to the NHS Long Term Plan, within trusts and local health systems. Indeed, the plan calls for AHPs to lead and support system-wide change. Strategic AHP leadership is absolutely essential to that.

‘We must unleash the energy, insight and brilliance of AHPs.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive, NHS England 

AHPs will be pivotal to the success of the Long Term Plan’s priorities. To truly do this, the system must take seriously the call for dedicated strategic chief AHP leaders and make their appointment a priority.

The guide includes three examples of AHPs in strategic senior roles: 

Each describes their own path into senior leadership positions.

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