Why leadership is crucial to us and patients

The Professional Head of AHPs at NHS Improvement reflects on the main findings of a new study:

We always suspected that leadership of the Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) in trusts varies hugely and is highly complex.

Now we have proof: research commissioned by NHS Improvement from Kingston University found, for example, that 43 senior AHP job descriptions contained 41 different job titles. Little wonder that confusion reigns when trying to find the ‘go-to’ person in a trust or wider health system.

This clearly matters to senior AHPs and directors of nursing. Despite their busy schedules they readily found time to engage with the Kingston team as it carried out the research between December and March. That was no surprise – after we announced our plans for the research last year, inquiries came in thick and fast.

Why is this subject so important to them? Well, it’s because they are keenly aware of AHPs’ untapped potential to help transform so many aspects of health and care in areas like patient flow.

AHPs are the NHS’s third largest workforce, practising in most clinical pathways and working across organisational boundaries and at all stages of the patient’s pathway. The need to marshal their potential for transforming healthcare has never been greater.

Leadership is crucial to that. We found that trusts that invested in senior leadership more frequently shared AHP innovations that had a positive impact on patients’ and system outcomes. The more senior an AHP leader was in a trust, the more engaged AHPs were in improvement work.

This is a really important finding, as ramping up the AHPs’ contribution to transformation could go a long way towards solving some of the wicked challenges we face in health and social care.

Perhaps those with leadership arrangements that are more distant from the trust board also are engaged in new ways of working, however they were less likely to be celebrated and shared, minimising the opportunities for spread across the system.

We have been described as a ‘secret weapon’; there must be no better time than now for trusts to ensure their AHP leader has the mandate to go public and shout wisely about the impacts their AHPs are delivering.

We also wanted to understand the range of expectations trusts had of their AHP leaders, and the career development journeys undertaken by those who were appointed to some of the most senior strategic leadership roles in provider trusts.

AHP leaders told us about their career, which had often followed a winding route involving roles not viewed as ‘traditional’ for AHPs. Whilst often arising from serendipity rather than strategic career planning, these experiences had served them well, shaping them significantly as leaders.

They described how they had acquired multiple perspectives on system problems, and a rich appreciation of the contributions of the components parts of health and social care services. They also described how moving away from their uni-professional roles had given them additional skills in identifying system solutions, and building productive relationships that broke down barriers between professions and organisations.

They talked about how and what: how we need to work differently as AHPs, and what we need to do to make that happen.

Their stories help us to think differently about what constitutes a ‘good’ leadership development opportunity.

AHPs into Action described the transformative potential of the AHP workforce. Whilst intuitively we felt that AHP leadership needed to be strengthened across the system, for the first time we now have evidence to show how important senior AHP leadership is to that transformation.

To help trust boards and others recognise this, we published a summary of our findings to coincide with the Chief Allied Health Professions Officers’ annual conference last week.

Now is the time for AHP leaders of the future to step out of the shadows. Share your views on AHP leadership – join the twitter conversation #AHPLeadership.

For more information please read the publication: Allied Health Professions into Action – Using Allied Health Professionals to transform health, care and wellbeing.

Caroline Poole

Caroline Poole is the Deputy Clinical Director and Professional Head of Allied Health Professions.

Over 20 years Caroline has developed a broad portfolio of experience within healthcare, having held clinical, managerial and strategic leadership positions across community and acute services and in commissioning.

Her passion is for improving the experience and outcomes for patients, carers, staff and systems.

She joined NHS Improvement in 2017, firstly leading a portfolio to develop AHP Leadership and more recently working with NHS Trusts to improve care whilst building improvement capacity and capability.

Caroline is a registered speech and language therapist and qualified coach.

Follow Caroline on Twitter: @CarolineNhs

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  1. Sandeep Athwal says:

    Really interesting blog! As an AHP you do wonder sometimes what is happening during the transformation process and the impact it will have on your service. It can sometimes feel like a fragmented process so it’s really good to hear that AHP’s are taking a proactive role and looking at leadership development!

  2. Deborah Harding says:

    It’s great to read this summary of the key points from the findings. Contributors to the research were from across the professions – and beyond AHPs, indicating the potential for AHPs to provide solutions addressing contemporary health and social care challenges is increasingly recognised in the health and social care system. AHPs: pull together, map your contribution to Trust and population priorities, articulate the AHP contribution in these terms, collaborate with your Director of Nursing. We are all here for those with health and social care needs. Connect and innovate.