‘As a BME nurse you’ll face challenges, but don’t let them hold you back’

Angela Stewart defied the boardroom stereotypes by establishing her own thriving business

Angela Stewart defied the boardroom stereotypes by establishing her own thriving business

Angela Stewart won a Nottingham Women
in Business Award in 2015, two years after
setting up NurtureCare. Picture: Nottingham Post

Working as a nurse for more than 30 years, including as senior matron in paediatric intensive care, I often saw the need for additional community support and services for children and young people with complex health needs, and at the end of life.

I dealt with many parents frustrated by the lack of community support available to enable their child to leave hospital. Working in the NHS was frustrating too – there was only so much you could do to support these families.

I was nearing retirement when I visited a family who were really struggling. The child had been discharged, but they were waiting for the care package the NHS had promised them. They could only speak a little English, but needed round-the-clock care, so I kept visiting and pushing for the NHS to do more.

Having finally managed to get the family what they needed, I went to visit them, excited about my news. Yet when I arrived, I discovered that the child had died the day before.

From ward to boardroom

Enough is enough, I said to myself; we work so hard to provide the care that families need, yet we had failed because there was a gap. I was determined to fill it.

For the next 12 months, I worked part-time in the NHS and spent the rest of my time researching and setting up a service to give these families the specialist support they need.

After writing a business plan, I had to prove to social services and the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) that the service I proposed would work. I ensured all quality assurance was in place, engaged with families and recruited experienced nurses. I was fortunate to know people in business, and being a senior matron I had watched people at board level, learning how they dealt with things, what to do – and what not to do.

‘In the caring professions you see women in junior management, in the boardroom there are more men, so I was in the minority’

I also listened to families about what went wrong and what did not work in the NHS. Learning from this is where our success has come from.

Six tips for building your business

  • Know your service and understand every aspect of the field
  • Be compassionate, as well as passionate, in what you do
  • When you are faced with a challenge, try to look at it in a positive light
  • You need to be 100% committed and willing to do extra hours, but don’t forget to maintain a work-life balance
  • Respect and listen to the people you have invested in to achieve your goals, and remember that you are not the expert in every area. You may need to step back at times and allow others to take the lead
  • Remember that it is not about you, but what you want to create for your patients

Making myself heard 

In the corporate environment, there are definitely more hurdles for women and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Things are changing, but there is still some way to go.

In the caring professions you see women on the front line as junior management. In the boardroom there are a lot more men, so I was in the minority. Here I learned to shout the loudest, to make myself heard, and have my ideas taken seriously in line with those of my male counterparts.

As a black woman, I believe this is about perseverance, determination, believing in yourself and having the aspiration to succeed. 

It has taken me more than 30 years – with the challenges of bringing up three children and juggling many responsibilities along the way – to reach this point in my career.

Being from a BME background is not something I have let hold me back during my nursing career. There is a problem, but when you find it you cannot let it bother you. 

Many times when I tried to talk to CCGs I felt they did not take me seriously, not only because I am black but because I am a woman. Perhaps they didn't think I should reach that level, but I looked at my experience as a clinician, as a nurse, and thought, 'why should you reach that level and not me?'  

‘Many times when I tried to talk to CCGs I felt they did not take me seriously because I am a black woman’

To achieve things quickly, I had to work smart. I had employed two white male directors, and they became the face of NurtureCare.  They had no additional skills to mine, and lacked my clinical experience. But when they went into meetings armed with what I had directed and presented, they would come out with a yes where I came out with a no.

You either let this affect you and what you are doing, or you find a way round it. It is about being aware of the challenge and how to play your cards.

Good leaders push everyone else forward 

To be a good leader of this kind of team, it cannot be all about you anyway. Sometimes you need to get to the back of the queue and push everyone else forward.

The measure of whether I am doing well is in the final result – the care and support our families receive.

The NurtureCare team celebrate after winning the services category at a Nottingham
small business awards event. Picture: Nottingham Post

NurtureCare was established in July 2013. We currently care for 26 children and young adults 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and have achieved an outstanding rating for care from the Care Quality Commission.

We work with the CCG and trusts to discharge children from hospital much earlier, saving up to £3,000 per night and freeing up beds. At home we support children and their families to lead a normal life by providing the highest quality, joined-up care with the family's multidisciplinary team.

Ongoing challenges are addressed through hard work, determination, perserverence and an element of risk taking.

Recruitment is one of my biggest challenges, as it takes a lot of time and dedication to find the right specialist nurses and carers.

Elevating carers’ knowledge and skills is another challenge, so I set up an academy to train internal and external carers to the highest level, and supervise and monitor them.

Providing high quality care is at the heart of our service, and this ethos has ensured that NurtureCare is respected as a progressive and forward thinking company. It's about developing partnerships in healthcare with families and commissioners, in a manner that provides flexible  care of the highest standards. We strive to promote independence, dignity and choice, while meeting our clients' physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. 

NurtureCare is not about one person - it is a team who are caring and dedicated, and put children and families first. Its achievements are due to the team's dedication, demonstrated by the three awards we have won for our service and staff in the five years we have been open.

We are currently in discussions about opening a home-from-home as a halfway house for children coming out of hospital and getting ready to go home, or providing end of life care where the whole family can stay with their child. 

My goal is for NurtureCare to be recognised nationally as one of the outstanding care providers, seeing its clients and families as pivotal to what it does.

The NHS is always changing, and we need to think outside the box. There are many experienced nurses, like myself, who need to share their skills and knowledge before retirement.

Nurses tend not see themselves as entrepreneurs in their field, but there is so much we can do to support the NHS and vulnerable children and adults within the community. 

Taking the service from strength to strength

Due to NurtureCare’s rapid growth in just five years, I now employ more than 100 staff. As the organisation’s chief executive, I work closely with the clinical director, human resources advisor, finance team, IT and digital marketing manager, clinical educator team, legal and administration team and the parents of the children we care for.

We work with families throughout changes to ensure their needs are met, and also work closely with the hospital so that the transition is smooth, helping them understand the family dynamic and what makes parents react the way they do.

I coordinate our strategy, monitor and implement quality and clinical standards, and make sure our service is cost-effective. I am also responsible for ensuring client safeguarding is maintained in line with local and national agendas.

It’s important to ensure the service is continually improving, and I work closely with all departments to facilitate staff development and training and promote innovative plans.

Our clients and families are part of the recruitment process, and we ensure that the families of clients from BME backgrounds are fully supported to ensure their needs are met.

I am happy to roll up my sleeves any time to support families and clients in a crisis.

I also support staff on a day-to-day basis, including helping on clinical shifts - if a night shift needs covered, for example. This is key to the service's success as it means I remain engaged with our families. 


Angela Stewart is managing director and nurse manager of NurtureCare

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