Jeremy Hunt: a government view on advancing women in medicine

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  • Posted:Thursday 15 January 2015

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt outlines his plan for advancing women in medicine and for the NHS to become the largest learning organisation in the world.


There is, you know, a lot of pressure on the front line at the moment and obviously I spend a lot of time trying to understand what the cause of that pressure is. I was having a conversation with Mike Richards, the new Chief Inspector of Hospitals, yesterday about this and he said that there is some interesting emerging evidence that actually where there are problems they’ve tried to identify is it about money, is it about the local health economy? And the biggest single factor that crops up time and time again is leadership. I’m not someone who believes that we don’t have enough good leaders in the NHS, because I think with 1.3 million people we have lots and lots of brilliant potential leaders, but we don’t bring on enough good leaders. And the truth is that the way that you become a great leader is by working with another great leader and learning how they do it and learning to be inspired by how they do it. And we will not get the right quality of leaders in our 250 NHS Trusts, in our 211 CCGs, the key leadership positions, unless we tap into the potential of that 70 per cent of the workforce that is female.

You know, it is worth starting by saying that the NHS actually leads the way in terms of our performance in this area compared to other parts of society which are a long way behind. Still we only have five FTSE 100 leaders, so 5 per cent of FTSE 100 companies that are led by women, compared to 40 per cent of NHS Trust Chief Executives. A couple of Sundays ago I was with Tracy Fletcher in the Homerton. She has done an amazing job, she’s been there very many years, she is surrounded by hospitals that are really struggling with their A&E target, she has those same inner London pressures and she has done a magnificent job in that trust.

There are really inspiring examples of leadership, but we can do a lot better. 70 per cent of the employees in the NHS are women, but less than half are doctors. Our women – only 30 per cent of our trust chairs are women, only around a quarter of our medical directors and finance directors are women.  I’m personally a big advocate of a sort of view that says that often the best leaders are pretty ego free and I think that women tend to be better at that than men. If you think about particular qualities that women bring to leadership roles, this is something that women do very well. And I think it is very striking when you look at some of those examples that I’ve talked about, about really well run hospitals, that in many ways that leadership exemplifies the culture change that we need in the NHS today. Where staff feel listened to and supported, feel they can speak out if they have concerns about poor care that they’ve seen. If we’re going to move away from a culture where there has been too much bullying and too much of a feeling of a macho top-down approach to management which has made it harder for people to speak out when they have concerns. In the post-Francis era that is obviously a very, very high priority.

We have a leadership review that’s being conducted at the moment by Sir Stuart Rose, and it’ll be interesting to hear what he had to say about this agenda. We have a new fast-track leadership programme being run by the NHS Leadership Academy which has got I think 36 per cent females participating in it. And that is designed to encourage and bring on people, particularly doctors and nurses who might want to make the move across from clinical practice into leadership roles, and to make that as smooth and easy as possible. We put money into a nurse leadership training programme. But I think we can do more, and I think one of the things that I want to do is to hear from you as to how we could do more.

I think one of the things that we could particularly look at is mentoring programmes to give women who might want to step forward more self-confidence to do so, because I think that sometimes can be an issue. I think we need to look at hidden barriers where they exist, and I think we need to look at more flexible working. We still lose far too many GPs because we don’t make it easy enough for people to work flexibly, and I’m sure that’s true across many leadership positions in the NHS. And I think most important of all is to move further and faster in that big process of culture change through the NHS where we say that our objective for the NHS, as we move to these new really exciting models of care, is to create a listening and a learning culture where the NHS becomes the world’s largest learning organisation, where through peer review, through talking, through listening to each other we’re constantly on that journey of organisational improvement and self-improvement, and I think that’s something that women have a very special and important role to make in terms of making that happen.

So there’s my comments, thank you very much indeed.



Comment date
09 July 2017
Any doctor who takes time out of their career to have and raise children is paid less, and is less able to progress, as a direct result of Jeremy Hunt's leadership on the junior doctor contracts. These contracts were being planned at the time of this speech.

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