LGBT+ History Month: In conversation with Dr Kathy McLean

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21 February 2024

Dr Kathy McLean
University Hospitals Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust

How have attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community changed throughout your career? 

There is no doubt that there is more openness now compared to the start of my career 40 years ago. It would be complacent to say everything is fine, it still feels as if we have to explain more than people who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community. After all this time I still feel nervous at times, unsure what the response to being a member of the community will be.

How has your experience as an LGBTQ+ individual influenced your approach to healthcare leadership? 

I think it has made me realise that some people have more to overcome to feel totally included. I have also tried to be a role model to demonstrate that being in a minority need not be a disadvantage, although there have been times in my journey when colleagues have clearly felt anxious and excluded by others because of who they are.

What are the key challenges or obstacles that still need to be addressed to further enhance LGBTQ+ visibility and inclusivity in the NHS, particularly across senior leadership?

We need to be in a place where it is assumed that a significant number of people in a room will identify as part of the LGBTQ+ group and be welcoming to any differences. We should be looking to ensure that in any leadership groups this aspect of diversity is included, so that the wider voices are heard. Policies should be amended so that considering the LGBTQ+ community is a normal part of the process.

A survey by the British Medical Association and the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists highlighted the difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ NHS staff, how can the NHS foster inclusive safe environments for LGBTQ+ staff?

Talk openly in wider staff groups and leadership forums, remove the mysteries and ensure that senior leaders are willing to share their own experiences.

Do you think equality, diversity and inclusion lead roles in the NHS are important? If so, why?

Vital, as we represent our diverse communities and populations. The diverse views and voices need to be heard otherwise we will never tackle inequalities and inequity.

Could you share a specific moment or experience where your identity played a significant role in shaping your approach to patient care or advocating for inclusivity within the NHS? 

Years ago, when it was relatively less common to meet same sex couples as patients with partners in hospital, I remember a female patient being in a bed on the ward, with a female partner sitting beside her. I made a point of addressing them as a couple, not questioning their relationship but hoping to demonstrate an inclusive approach to both them and my team. As a leader I think that I have been able to be there for people to talk to about their own journey and provide confidence about being honest.

About the author

Dr Kathy McLean profile picture

Dr Kathy McLean

Dr Kathy McLean is the chair of University Hospitals Derby and Burton and is the chair of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board. Prior to becoming a non-executive, Kathy was executive medical director and chief operating officer at NHS Improvement, the organisation responsible for providing leadership and support to NHS trusts and foundation trusts.

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