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Dr Ruth Chambers worked on the frontline as a GP for 40 years, before deciding to retire last year.
However, she hasn’t stopped giving her contribution to improving the lives of people in her area, as she continues to support the local NHS in her role of clinical lead for technology enabled care services programme at Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP).
She tells Healthcare Leader about her experience in the NHS.
Q What challenges have you faced in your career?
When I first started my career, only 10% of doctors were women. When I had children, my husband stayed off work to look after them while I worked full time. I don’t see gender stereotyping now, but 20 years ago there was a lot of it.
When I was younger, the NHS didn’t offer flexible working, which is why my husband had to stay home with our children.
I think the situation has improved a lot now in both the NHS and the academic sector. I can see that now, as I am an honorary professor in two universities. I can compare that to how it was before, as for 10 years I worked as a professor in one university while practising as a GP.
I think a young woman [nowadays] might think they were being discriminated against, but I don’t think that would probably be the case. [Although] that might be their perception when trying to juggle family life with a busy professional career.
Q What were you awarded an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for?
An OBE is awarded for a series of achievements, but in my case, I think it was particularly driven by the quality improvement programme that I helped to set up in Stoke-on-Trent between 2008 and 2012.
I secured £1.5m into recurrent funds. Practices would receive part of this money to hit targets we set for patients with long-term conditions – a bit like funding for QOF but we would also offer quality improvement upskilling and resources.
Q What are you most proud of?
I am proud of having written 71 books – they all share my learnings. I’ve always had a mantra in my mind, which is that there’s no point in doing research unless you are going to share it. That means talking at conferences, writing papers and books.
Q What advice would you give to women looking into leadership roles?
Be perseverant – think about what the blocks are and do something proactive about it. Believe in yourself and celebrate everything that you are succeeding at.
Q What are the key qualities of a leader?
They should understand what their role is and who it is they are leading and representing so that you understand the context in which you are a leader, you need to understand the outcome and outputs expected and the timescale. Leaders should build the team to deliver those outputs or outcomes and support them to do so.
There’s no one way to build a team. You have to be able to adapt, adopt, think on the job, go for a different approach.
Q Do you have a role model in the NHS?
I believe that most people who are seen as role models have got there by a certain amount of arrogance.
People I respect the most are probably not well-known. Most inspiring people are in the field, they make things happen and create a lot of positive opportunities or achievements for their local people.
Q How can ICSs promote patient-centred care?
By giving equal status, attention and importance to everybody – however senior or junior they are.
System leaders should also investigate removing the obstacles patients sometimes experience when accessing care.
In Staffordshire, for instance, we are trying to introduce remote Skype medicine use reviews between community pharmacists and frail patients. But in order to do that, you first need to think about all the different elements that will help you deliver the service – such as checking that a healthcare assistant will be able to assist the frail person at home while doing the remote medicines use review, and that all members of staff are adequately trained to deliver the service.