Ruth Rankine, Director of Primary Care, NHS Confederation
Leading primary care nationally and working alongside ministers to help influence public policy surrounding healthcare
Ruth Rankine is the Director of Primary Care, leading the Primary Care Network. After studying business and languages at university over thirty years ago, little did Ruth imagine her career path would take her to the heart of the NHS at such a senior and national level. She says: “I was looking for a full-time job and I started temping. My first job was in a regional health authority, working on reducing waiting lists. Very quickly, it opened my eyes to a whole new world. What struck me was that, even though I wasn't working on the front line, I felt I had some impact on the healthcare that people received.”
"There is little funding for leadership training in primary care. Any time spent away from the practice doing training is often at [a GP's] own expense."
Ruth’s journey in healthcare has taken her progressively into more national roles, working alongside ministers to help influence public policy surrounding healthcare. “I pretty much started at the bottom and worked my way up,” she reflects. “My advice to people is, if you get the opportunity to work at a national level, take it because you'll get a much greater understanding of how things work, how decisions are made and how policy is made.”
As the director of Primary Care, Ruth runs the network which represents Primary Care organisations, such as Primary Care Networks and GP Federations, with the aim of supporting them, representing them and influencing national policy. Most of the members are front-line clinicians working in leadership roles. “One of our key priorities,” says Ruth, “is to equip primary care leaders with the knowledge and skills to become the leaders of the future. How do we prepare those leaders to sit at the same table as trust chief executives, for example, and take part in strategic level conversations?”
“We’ve got a lot of women at the top now if you think of people like Amanda Pritchard as Chief Executive of the NHS and Emily Lawson as Director of the No 10 delivery unit."
The answer is two-fold. It’s about giving primary care leaders confidence and capability, but also as front-line clinicians it’s about how they carve out the time. "There is little funding for leadership training in primary care," acknowledges Ruth. "Any time spent away from the practice doing training is often at their own expense.” As the director of Primary Care, Ruth’s job, in part, consists of finding ways to make access to training opportunities equitable and relevant for those working in primary care.
A key focus for the network currently is how it can support primary care to be a real system partner. “That needs to work both ways” says Ruth “in that systems have to provide the opportunities for primary care to have a real voice in the planning and delivery of services and primary care has to want to collaborate”. Ruth and her team are currently supporting this work by bringing a cross-section of people from across the NHS to focus on key issues such as improving access, workforce and estates, health inequalities. To this end, participants are bringing their everyday experience to help shape the future, share and collaborate and help to influence the direction of travel in terms of national policy.
Reflecting upon her professional journey from temp to her current status, Ruth surmises that one of the best ways to encourage more women into senior roles like her own is to showcase what they do, to put a spotlight on them: “We’ve got a lot of women at the top now if you think of people like Amanda Pritchard as Chief Executive of the NHS and Emily Lawson as Director of the No 10 delivery unit. They are only two of many senior women in NHS and public sector who have achieved fantastic things in their careers.”
Genevieve Shaw, Founder & Editor-in-chief
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