CEO Series: Angela Hillery, Joint CEO of Leicestershire Partnership and Northamptonshire Healthcare

Our latest Leadership Series interview is to recognise and celebrate Allied Health Professions (AHPs) this month. We speak with Angela Hillery, Joint CEO of Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, who started her career as an AHP and has moved all the way up to be one of our established and successful CEOs in the country.

Angela has one of only a few roles across the country; she has not only achieved an ‘Outstanding’ rating for NHFT on two occasions, but she has also made a massive difference to LPT since joining the trust over a year ago.

Angela is also one of the few CEOs who has pledged to strive towards LPT and NHFT becoming anti-racism trusts – a key message this Black History Month.

Can you tell me about your path to becoming a CEO?

I’ve been in the NHS for 31 years and my interest in the health service started when I was 14. I was in the role of ‘Mobility Assistant’ – probably not a role that is recognised now, but in those times, we were paid to come in and take patients out; this was a learning disability and mental health facility. From this role, and from spending time with my nan who worked in mental Health, I developed a passion for healthcare!

After this role, I went on to become a Speech and Language Therapist: one of the Allied Health Professions, and I was lucky enough to be accepted onto a place at Leicester to study for my BSc. I took this passion forward and specialised in working with people who had learning difficulties and dysphagia (swallowing disorder). I was also fortunate to be able to study for my Masters degree at Birmingham University whilst working and juggling the demands of a young family – looking back now  I recognise how this helped me learn how to manage competing priorities.

From that role, I took on increasingly professional roles; I became a professional lead which meant leading speech and language therapists in a county, and I also became involved in a management board with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

I was lucky enough to be given opportunities to “dip my toe” into general management responsibilities; this was never my path nor my desire but I think perhaps other people saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and through those experiences and development opportunities, I became very passionate about leadership and ultimately became a director of operations which prepares you for so much in the NHS.

I was able to visit Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and United Healthcare in Minneapolis and New York. Both of those experiences gave me a fantastic platform to take a step into a CEO role and I’ve never looked back. In Northamptonshire I’ve been the CEO for seven years and I’m now Joint CEO across NHFT and LPT and I love it!

How has your leadership changed over the past sixmonths?

Fundamentally, I don’t think my leadership has changed; I still think I’m focused on people and the cultural part of the job and I’m hopefully known for that. I think the difference has been the increase in talking with  people about self-care and their mental health and wellbeing.

With my executive teams, I’m asking them to tell me what their health and wellbeing is like, we score ourselves and we encourage people to talk about it. As much as my leadership style hasn’t changed, it has certainly been an increasing focus on collaboration for us all!

We have seen through COVID-19 that without collaboration you cannot achieve the outcomes that have been set or you need. I’ve always been committed to diversity and inclusion, however COVID-19 has emphasised this further and one of the aspects I’ve committed to is to fully become anti-racist organisations – this can be easily said but it’s not easily done. We have started these conversations, and building upon our BAME listening events, collectively we are exploring what that actually means and discovering how best to co-produce this with our staff.

What technology do you think has been the most useful over the past six months?

Without technology we wouldn’t even be communicating between organisations as well as we have. The tech that I would emphasise would be innovation examples like ChatHealth, a digital text messaging service which started as an offer for young people in LPT , and is available to support parents and carers of children aged 0-19. We are very proud that over 50 trusts around the country are now using ChatHealth.

So, during the pandemic, we’ve increasingly used ChatHealth to support young people and families to get in touch with us for advice and support in relation to their physical and mental health. We’ve also extended the ChatHealth text service to perinatal mental health service users as well; mums are able to use that facility for example if they’re struggling with post-natal depression.

In fact, we’ve also just won a digital innovation award for our website work with children and young people services, so for the Health for under Fives, Health for Kids and Health for Teens public health websites, which I think are great examples of how you can encourage people to access information for themselves and be signposted and supported, and to use a digital platform to facilitate that.

How are you and your trust celebrating AHPs this month?

There are loads of events across both organisations, recognising all the professions within AHPs and the roles they undertake – a true celebration. We kick started on Monday (12 October), I was really pleased to open the event and I gave a sense of my career journey and in that I focused on what I call ‘the ring of people’ who have helped and supported me in my key moments, and I also focused on the ‘doors analogy’ and how doors are opened and closed and whether you step through those or you don’t. I believe it’s helpful to share your personal stories and be open so others can understand that career routes are so varied.

We had some great poster opportunities too from AHPs on their leadership work and we included  a session on diversity within AHPs, and a whole series of other events including a research focus to profile the full range of AHPs that we have across the trusts. It has been great fun for people in planning it, and I think they’ve done a great job.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to take on the role of CEO?

The advice I would give is that you need to be an authentic leader and value people by recognising everyone is a leader; whatever you do is amplified and you need to understand the importance of that as a CEO.

Also, every touchpoint that you have with a member of staff matters, and I do mean every touchpoint; that could be walking across the carpark, any Microsoft Teams event, saying “hello”, visiting a service, or even in email communication; every touch point matters.

Being a CEO means really you are a Chief Engagement Officer – the way that you engage will inform how others engage, and the way you value people in those touchpoints will make a difference to how people feel in your organisation and therefore the care you provide .

Do you think there has been time to reflect yet based on what has happened over the past several months? How important is reflection in your role as CEO?

I think reflection is an essential part of the role of any leader and  CEOs are no different. We have an East Midlands Alliance for mental health and learning disabilities, which is a group of us in the mental health communities across the East Midlands, and we have been working  together in an alliance – through COVID-19, we have come together every week. What we’ve done is brought ourselves together to share experiences in a very trusting environment as well as co-ordinating our teams to connect over topic areas too. This is one of the ways I’ve managed to reflect, as well as feel supported, other CEO colleagues and my teams have undoubtedly helped me and it’s about finding those ways.

Is there anything else you would like to discuss?

We do need to consider how to continue to bring in the voice of patients, service users, and carers in services as this has always been pivotal for me and is something that increasingly we are focusing on and challenging ourselves on through Covid.

We currently use different mechanisms such as ‘I want great care’; co-production in building new facilities, such as in Leicester for our Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) unit, and our recovery colleges are great examples of working together; it’s about the voice of patients and carers being always of the utmost importance and never forgetting this.

How do all  maintain the focus of these voices through COVID-19 and integrate these with  new technologies and  methods of working?