This is Shahnaz Ali OBE.
Shahnaz has been the Director for Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights at NHS North West since 2007.
This coming week she will be taking her family to Buckingham Palace.
There they will watch her receive an OBE for 'Services to Equality and Diversity'.
Three weeks after that event Shahnaz will receive her P45 from the NHS.
That's right. Her P45.
Redundant and Pensioned Off
The NHS has no place for a leader of her calibre, with a well-documented catalogue of successes wherever she has gone.
Instead, equality strategy at national level will be in the hands of a team who (as far as I can determine at present) are all far more junior and less experienced.
How that has come about raises significant questions about the probity of the recruitment process setting up the national organisations which will oversee the quality and effectiveness of the 'modernised' NHS.
Shahnaz's successful career in the health and local government sectors spans 30 years.
Beginning her post-academic working life in a Citizens Advice Bureau and Tribunals unit in the Chapeltown area of Leeds in the early 1980s, she soon moved to a senior policy role in the Chief Executive's Department of Leeds City Council.
Roles as Principal Health Policy Officer and Head of the HIV unit followed in the London Borough of Newham, before she moved back to become Training and Human Resources Manager for Community Health Sheffield.
She was then promoted to Director of HR Development within that same trust before becoming Director of Workforce Diversity and Equality and then Director of Education and Workforce Expansion for South Yorkshire Workforce Development Corporation.
In these roles Shahnaz made a real difference. Her work means that, for instance, South Yorkshire's paramedic teams come from significantly more diverse backgrounds than had previously been the case. She used her oversight of tens of millions of pounds in the NHS education budget to call Universities to account on the selection criteria and syllabus for training new doctors.
These are the kinds of strategic interventions which have impacts for generations.
By 2005 Ali had become Senior Director for Local Authorities and Wider Partnerships for South Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority. Then, in 2007, she accepted the invitation to lead on equality, diversity and human rights for NHS North West, which had been created by the last major NHS reorganisation.
Her CV documents how, in each role, she has led an effective improvement programme and changed peoples' lives. I've written about her innovative approach (and my part in helping her deliver it as her programme manager) here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I've also written previously about Shahnaz's voluntary leadership roles and experience, which contributed to the reasons why she is receiving an OBE now.
One very senior NHS figure said recently of Shahnaz,
"[She] stands out in this area because the vision she developed with the benefit of research and evidence was developed using her wide network of contacts in the NHS and the broader public sector as well as colleagues in other sectors. [She ensures] that strategy and action plans are focused on outcomes as opposed to the traditional E&D approach of process and inputs. In doing this she has developed and pioneered the first regional approach to measuring and performance managing equality outcomes and it is this which marks her apart from others. Shahnaz achieves so much because of her excellent networking skills. She uses these relentlessly to scope ideas and promote the north west at every opportunity. She is also enormously generous with her time and expertise willing to meet colleagues, peers, and more junior staff in equal measure."
Real strategic leadership
In creating the Equality Performance Improvement Toolkit (EPIT) as part of her evidence- and outcome-driven strategy, Shahnaz piloted the first and most successful framework for objectively measuring progress on equality in the NHS's history.
EPIT demonstrated the ability to double the tangible measures of real progress on outcomes in the North West in just eighteen months. As part of a wider strategy for transforming the culture and leadership approach in the region, Shahnaz demonstrated what really could be achieved.
The approach was later adapted (badly) by a team set up by the NHS's Equality and Diversity Council (EDC) to create the so-called Equality Delivery System. The EDS failed for very predictable reasons to echo the success of the EPIT approach … but that's a discussion for another day.
The EDC also adopted the first ever national Competency Framework for Equality and Diversity Leadership, instituted again by Shahnaz and our team.
Other Shahnaz-led innovations became nationally utilised assets too.
The Health Equality Library Portal soon became the country's best place for anyone to research evidence material for equality strategy.
The Health Equality Stateholder Engagement approach demonstrated an effective and genuinely sustainable approach for getting the best out of partnership with third sector expertise.
Shahnaz's determination to help avoid discrimination in the conduct of the new Medical Revalidation process caused her to create another toolkit ("A Fair Route to Revalidation") to fill an obvious national need. The toolkit has draw wide praise since it was launched in November 2012.
Shahnaz's vision also encompassed Health Inequalities as well as Workforce and Patient Equality strategy.
Her regional strategy set the tone in 2008 with a long list of evidence for the kinds of inequalities which the region needed to tackle, and why cultural awareness of diversity was key to tackling them.
She influenced this by working in conjunction with peers developing the quality of Commissioning Strategies (and the Joint Strategic Needs Assessments which should underpin them). She refused to sign off PCT Commissioning Strategies which failed to address such inequalities. NHS organisations also discovered that they could not claim to be Achieving in the relevant parts of the EPIT performance system unless they had evidence of actual progress addressing these areas.
Financial support for good ideas
She also provided strategic funding to clinicians who had innovative ideas to tackle big inequalities.
One clinician-led project has concentrated on reaching out to Black and Minority Ethnic Women to ensure they understand the importance of cancer screening and use the services provided locally.
Primary Care Trusts have been encouraged to work with expert stakeholder organisations, such as the Men's Health Forum and Lesbian and Gay Foundation to come up with innovative schemes reaching out to groups of people who have traditionally not been screened effectively for a range of conditions.
The 'Pride in Practice' scheme was created with funding from Shahnaz to develop the capability of GPs to tackle LGB health needs. Research into transgender health needs was funded. A local community radio station was used to convey important guidance on diabetes to South Asian listeners.
Yet this expert in transforming the outcomes experienced by you and I in the health service has no place in David Nicholson's brave new NHS.
Over the last year I have watched as Shahnaz has patiently and professionally sought out senior roles which she would have been eminently qualified to take in the new NHS structure.
I have cross-checked for her that every requirement in the various job descriptions has been more than amply covered with evidence of her capability and very real achievements.
I have also watched as, each time, she has mysteriously failed to be shortlisted for such posts. I have witnessed the inability of leaders to provide credible feedback for such decisions.
Shahnaz Ali is not alone in this experience. Her experience forms part of a much larger betrayal of a very experienced and respected equalities leadership community within the NHS structure which is about to be disbanded.
This is a story which I will doubtless come back to.