Photo: Stefano Cagnoni
Lisa Rodrigues (centre) and Sophie Christie (right) in conversation with Channel 4’s Victoria Macdonald.
Two women NHS leaders warned that the NHS needs to give better support to senior managers and develop leadership teams that better represent the populations they serve in a conversation session with Channel 4 health correspondent Victoria Macdonald at the MiP Members’ Summit.
Lisa Rodrigues , a mental health campaigner and former chief executive of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust, and Sophia Christie , system lead for Devon’s Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, talked about their careers and the prospects for NHS management before answering questions from delegates.
Both Rodrigues and Christie described the difficulties facing women in being taken seriously as senior managers. Rodrigues said she believed that, as a society, “we’re tougher on women generally, because when women show signs of human nature, people say, ‘we know she wouldn’t be able to cope’.” Christie agreed: “An assertive woman is considered difficult, but assertive men are taken for granted,” she said. “There are clear gender assumptions.”
Rodrigues pointed out that women and BME people are often better represented in senior positions within mental health organisations – that an often-overlooked aspect of the lack of parity of esteem for mental health services is that the most under-funded NHS organisations are the ones that are more representative of the population. “Until the NHS reflects women and BME people it won’t be right,” she warned.
Discussing her recent book, Being an NHS Chief Executive , which recounts her experiences as leader of the Sussex Partnership trust, Rodrigues described the role of an NHS chief executive as a “lonely job” and warned that the “incentives and drivers are in the wrong place”.
Christie described her experiences at the start of her NHS career, when she worked as a part of a multi-organisational team, including a nurse, a social worker and a housing worker, and explained that she has spent the rest of her career trying to incorporate that complexity into her work in the belief that “it produces better outcomes for patients”.
Despite the dire findings of a recent MiP survey that fewer than 50% of members would recommend a career as an NHS manager to their family or friends, both women emphasised that being an NHS manager was an important and rewarding career. “We’ve survived this long,” said Christie, “and there’s all to play for.”