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Dame Julie Moore: Senior NHS staff are still afraid to be open about their sexuality

Early in her nursing career Julie Moore kept her personal life hidden. Today, she is one of the NHS’s most successful trust chief executives and one of the few who is openly gay. This lack of progress is shocking, she says

Early in her nursing career Julie Moore kept her personal life hidden. Today, she is one of the NHS’s most successful trust chief executives and one of the few who is openly gay. This lack of progress is shocking, she says


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My first encounter with anyone who openly called themselves lesbian was when I was a nursing student. I was working on a female medical ward and I arrived on a late shift to receive handover from the ward sister, who explained that a patient had taken an overdose in a suicide attempt.

While the handover wasn’t hostile in any way, the ward sister told me that this woman was a lesbian, so it was no surprise that she wanted to kill herself. An assumption had been made that the patient couldn’t possibly have a normal or happy life because she was a lesbian.

As I continued through my clinical career, getting promoted and making my way up the ranks, I remained secretive about my home life and my partner.

Fed up with secrecy

After I progressed into management there was another director who was obsessed with my sexuality and would frequently make comments about me ‘not having the right man yet’. Eventually I became tired of the harassment, especially when more junior members of staff also came to me to complain about his behaviour. I was also fed up with the secrecy and evasion.

I complained to the chief executive, but nothing happened. It wasn’t just that it was difficult to be gay, it was difficult to be a woman. I applied for a post in Birmingham and decided that if I got it I would be open about my sexuality from the start. If the organisation was not prepared to accept that, then I didn’t want to work there.

I got the job and from that day on my partner came with me to all hospital events. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall in.

‘We will not deliver the best care unless we value our diversity’

Many people in senior positions in the NHS and public life are still afraid to be open about their sexuality.

About three and a half years ago the HSJ ran a supplement about the top LGBT role models in the health service. Interestingly, they couldn’t make it to 100 or even 50, so came up with the top 25. I attended a launch event for the supplement, and it was a great celebration. However, there were very few senior people there and only one other trust chief executive made it onto the list. I discussed this with the editor, who said that other chief executives had been nominated but were unwilling to have their names published. This really shocked me.

A lifetime’s habits

In my own organisation, you might think that staff would find it easier to come out, considering I am so public. However, habits developed over a lifetime take a long time to change and some relatively senior staff keep their sexuality firmly hidden. This is why I feel it is so important that we hold events like our first Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference, where senior people can stand up and be counted and visible.

I want our trusts to be places where all staff are free to be themselves, where we truly represent the wider community we serve and where we can all work together to look after patients to the best of our ability. We will not deliver the best care unless we value our diversity.


Dame Julie Moore is chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

 

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