Actions not words: The Chief AHP Officer Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group (CAHPO BAME SAG)

Ruth Mhlanga Chair of the Chief AHP Officer BAME Strategic Advisory Group (CAHPO BAME SAG), NHS England

Being the chair of the Chief AHP Officer Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group (CAHPO BAME SAG) is incredibly important to me, in order to support allied health professionals (AHPs) to be anti-racist and anti-discriminatory because it is simply the right thing to do. I am passionate about achieving social justice for everyone, and believe it is important that everyone has a good experience of the NHS not just for the here and now but for future generations. This contributes to staff having a sense of belonging and strong connection to their place of work and colleagues, and providing the best high-quality care they can, while tackling health inequalities which affects the most minoritised in society.

The time is right for an anti-racist statement for AHPs.  It aligns with The People Plan, The NHS Constitution and our own core values of delivering the best patient care, while being responsive to the needs of our communities and strong advocates for all things fair and equitable. As part of the CAHPO BAME SAG, myself and the SAG deputies Jayanti Rai and Rita Thakaria have been instrumental in supporting the office of the Chief AHP Officer (CAHPO) in making anti-racism and social justice central to the new strategy.  The group allows feedback of key BAME AHP challenges to reach up to and influence at a national level. We have also ensured a stronger emphasis on raising the ethnic minority profile across the professions, ensuring a more diverse workforce supply and championed career development for those often left behind.

Creating new ways of working such as the set up and development of this SAG shows that we can combine commitment with tangible actions. This group also embodies the recommendations of the Messenger Report and gives strong visibility of more diversity within senior leadership positions. This in turn aids collaborative leadership and draws on organisational values such as ensuring that we grow our own diverse talent. Holding people to account in a safe and supportive space, combines growing for the future with allyship to take the work forward.

Earlier this year voices of minoritised groups were amplified by our contributions when we supported the CAHPO conference committee to ensure diverse voices were heard across the three days. A specific anti-racism session enabled a pivotal moment for BAME AHPs to feel heard and valued. A true moment to be proud of and an example of role modelling our talents.

As a person I live true to my values and this resonates with who I am.  I encourage everyone reading this blog to live true to their values whilst respecting those of others.  Something I always say to myself – whatever I do I should be able to sleep well at night and be at ease with my conscience, knowing that I have done the best that I can for myself and others. Thank you, Suzanne Rastrick and the office for the CAHPO team, for supporting this incredibly important work. Now it’s over to you Suzanne.

Suzanne Rastrick, Chief AHP Officer, NHS England

Following the tragic death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter campaign, I set up the CAHPO BAME SAG to provide a specific focus on race equality from a BAME perspective. My vision was that this group would influence, support and advise on the implementation and delivery of strategies, policies and practice that positively impact on BAME allied health professions (AHPs) and the people and communities they work alongside.

Perhaps the most significant example of the groups influence is the development of the new AHP Strategy for England (2022-2027): AHPs Deliver. The strategy sets out the direction for the third largest clinical workforce in England, representing 14 unique professions and almost 195,000 professionals. Here the CAHPO BAME SAG members worked with the strategy project lead to shape the document content specifically the anti-racism guiding principle. For this I am extremely grateful.

However, as shared by Ruth, the work and reach of the group has extended beyond this and sometimes it is the smaller actions that have created the most positive and lasting ripples.  As we shape the CAHPO BAME SAG offer at a regional level I ask you, supported by the AHPs Deliver Implementation Framework, to consider how you can be part of the next steps. Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.

Ruth Mhlanga

Ruth is a physiotherapist by background and as well as being the interim Chief AHP for South Tees, Ruth is the chair for the Chief Allied Health Professions Officers Black and Minority Ethnicity Strategic Advisory Group (CAHPO BAME SAG). Ruth is an experienced manager of physiotherapists and other allied health professions and has a passion for social justice.

Suzanne Rastrick

Suzanne qualified as an Occupational Therapist from Oxford. Suzanne was the first Allied Health Professional (AHP) to hold a substantive Director of Nursing post in both provider and commissioning organisations. She became the Chief Executive of a Primary Care Trust, where a particular highlight was having leadership responsibility for delivering health resilience and health ‘blue light’ services during the Olympic sailing events held in Dorset in 2012. She subsequently gained authorisation for a large Clinical Commissioning Group, before moving to her current post with NHS England. She was appointed as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England in September 2014.

In 2017 Suzanne launched the first AHP strategy for England which has been recognised as ground-breaking in policy development from its use of crowdsourcing. Building on this, Suzanne published the second AHP strategy – ‘AHPs Deliver’ in June 2022. This iteration had a greater emphasis on patient, public voice and specifically the inclusion of those who may be digitally excluded along with communities who may find it difficult to connect with traditional consultation methods. The result is a national strategy crowdsourced from diverse populations for people and communities AHPs serve.

For over three decades, Suzanne has held non-executive portfolios outside of the NHS, including audit committee chair roles, predominantly in the housing and charitable sector. Suzanne was recognised as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s birthday honours list 2019. In 2023 Suzanne was awarded a Visiting Professor role at St George’s, University of London and at Oxford Brookes University.

Follow Suzanne on Twitter/X @SuzanneRastrick or Instagram @chief_ahp_officer_england