Being an LGBT+ leader in the NHS

Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver is Chief Operating Officer at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He has written this blog as a reflection on inclusivity within the NHS and what it’s like being an openly gay man and a senior leader in the NHS.

In 2019, we saw the Interim NHS People Plan published to support the delivery of the ambitious NHS Long Term Plan. It is really pleasing to see the plan capture how the NHS will strive to develop and spread a positive, inclusive, person-centred leadership culture across organisations. I’ve seen over my relatively short leadership career, employee wants and needs change as generations working within the health service have changed. As leaders we need to adapt our recruitment and wellbeing strategies to ensure we become a modern employer, offering fulfilling careers where people are valued for who they are and their contribution to the NHS.

People will often talk about leadership in positive ways, yet I’ve learned just as much from some of the negative aspects of leadership that I have witnessed during my career. I’m self-conscious about many things, I couldn’t list them all! I know half of them are tiny, but for me at a specific point in my life they are very real. Being accepted is probably the biggest trigger for my imposter syndrome. Going into new forums I always worry how I will be seen or perceived. Then I come back to the pride I have in being a leader in the NHS, even more so to be a gay man in a leadership role within the NHS.

Mid Cheshire Hospitals recently launched the Rainbow Badge scheme and within two weeks over 1,000 members of the organisation had signed up. My notifications on Twitter went into overdrive with people just saying thanks for bringing the scheme to Mid Cheshire, in a small way, to me - this reinforced acceptance. The badge, while a visible symbol to people that the wearer is approachable and able to offer signposting or advice to LGBT+ people, for me it is the pledge individuals write which is the important fundamental basis of the scheme and the ongoing education that then follows.

I worried so much about coming out but I needn’t have, family and friends were amazing, yet what I didn’t realise was that I would still be coming out to people five years later. Does that ever stop? I’ve been in situations where I have felt that I just won’t mention I’m gay, just because it’s easier not to. That makes me feel uncomfortable; I’m not being true to me. Leaders are role models: we should help pave the way for future leaders or make things easier for others. I don’t have all the answers but by fostering an inclusive and open culture I hope I enable others to have the courage to put their ideas forward and then support them through to delivery. Seeing other people succeed from the small changes to the big transformational schemes is the most rewarding aspect of being leader for me.

The NHS has many opportunities for individuals to develop their career whatever aspect of healthcare this is within. Our workforce is diverse and that is something to truly celebrate. We need to see this diversity being reflected more on the boards that lead our organisations. The more we have such role models to show support and encouragement to minority groups, the better the NHS will be for the people who work within it, and also for the patients that we all serve.

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