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Dr Liz Adams

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA) programme student and consultant gynaecologist Dr Liz Adams talks to Social Policy Matters about her EGA experiences, priority-setting amid the pandemic, and being a female leader in the NHS. 

I had experienced rather poor leadership in a couple of Trusts I have worked at; I was being asked to take on more senior roles, such as clinical director, chairing committees and leading improvement and transformation projects, and I felt under-prepared for what was needed. I definitely didn’t want to perform poorly as a leader and therefore wanted to gain expertise. I was initially attracted by the name of the course: I always admired Elizabeth Garett Anderson when I was growing up. When I looked into the content, and the remote and experiential learning aspects, I thought it sounded perfect.

Women may find themselves side-lined and ignored in the workplace, in meetings, and it’s certainly true that I experienced discrimination, mansplaining and even sexual harassment in the workplace, when I was more junior. Therefore as a woman in leadership, I try to develop and listen to other women in the workplace, especially supporting those who need it at the time for whatever reason.  I work in all-female teams frequently and have only female patients, so the person-centred aspects of the EGA programme have been especially interesting. On the other hand, I also work with and have been trained by many very feminist male colleagues who have supported me tremendously over my career, so although a few men in the workplace can overlook capable women, the majority are ‘ gender-blind’ and very supportive. Senior male colleagues have been especially supportive of my leadership journey and mentored me, so I haven’t seen evidence of old boys networks recently. I also have a son who I am hoping to have brought up to have equal respect for diversity.

My approach to leading teams has definitely improved. I’m a better listener and I also ask for advice and help much more readily from experts such as colleagues in HR. Using some of the EGA tools was very valuable, and the course is experiential and allows us space to try new things; the Affina Team Journey was very helpful, as were other aspects such as collaborative advantage training. I’m less nervous now about chairing, leading, and just being myself as a leader.

The pandemic has definitely exacerbated structural issues in the NHS, poor treatment of staff, and reliance on goodwill, which has probably run out. I think as a manager, rather than being chained to your desk and Microsoft Teams, there’s no substitute for a walk round the department, preferably twice weekly, to check in on folk and make sure you nip issues in the bud. Non-medical staff such as cleaners and porters can tell you exactly what’s going on.

 Wow, that would be fun!

  • We restart the NHS wide IT project which fell apart ten years ago, and all patients and staff are linked up via a single patient electronic record. Maybe the NHS app will do this eventually.
  • We give everyone inflation-based pay rises to value health and social care staff properly for their skill and commitment, in addition linking health and social care so they are run as part of the same organisation.
  • We properly train people in leadership roles and no one is asked to become a leader without any training. In addition we properly fund and support the HR functions to provide the type of no blame investigation and governance functions, along the lines of the MerseyCare ‘implementing a just and restorative culture ’ approach, to prevent the systemic failures we have seen for years. No more need for public enquiries into health or social care failings.

Liz Adams is a consultant gynaecologist working across three Trusts in South West England. You can find out more about the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson healthcare leadership programme here.