A programme director at West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership, hosted by NHS Wakefield Clinical Commissioning Group has been announced as one of the top fifty leaders in healthcare from an ethnic minority background.
Fatima Khan-Shah has been announced as one of the most influential people in healthcare from a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic background by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) for her work in the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership, leading the unpaid carer and personalised care programme and her work within the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic Network that promotes diverse leaders in the health and care system.
Mrs Khan-Shah who is originally from Sheffield and now lives in West Yorkshire graduated with a degree in business and IT from Sheffield Hallam University in 2006. She delved into advocacy work well before getting her diploma, starting as an equal opportunities officer at the university’s student union during her placement year.
She said: “Starting my course, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. I always knew that I wanted to help people, so I became the equal opportunities officer during my placement year and used my voice for students who didn’t have one.
“My work got noticed by the Vice-Chancellor, and after I graduated, I went to work at the Vice-Chancellor’s office leading the implementation of their equality and diversity strategy.”
In 2007, Mrs-Khan Shah became a carer to a family member whilst also working and balancing her young family. It is at this point when Mrs Khan-Shah became an advocate for carers, informing local forums about the roles unpaid carers undertake.
Now, she is a carer to a different family member as well as working full-time at West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care partnership and as a non-executive director at Sheffield’s Children NHS Foundation Trust.
Both roles have power and influence in changing policy and outcomes for service users and healthcare professionals. She said: “If you told me four years ago that I would be sitting in a place with influence, I would have told you, ‘You are nuts.’
“Caring takes a toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. The real reason why I am committed to lifting this agenda is not just to amplify the voices of carers, but people in general, because I know how it feels when no one hears you.
“I am fortunate that people gave me the platform to challenge and amplify voices and to actually make change through the Partnership.
“Once I became in a position of influence, I became quite aware that I was the only person like myself in the room, – one of few women, and the only Asian and only Muslim woman. One of my mantras is to ‘leave the door open’ for other women coming through.”
Mrs Khan-Shah has been able to progress in her career by having positive female role models from within her community and beyond but recognises that it is challenging for a “woman that looks like me and has my name to progress” within the policy and healthcare setting.
“I was told as a child, that I had to not just be good, but to be excellent, to be twice-as-good as my counterpart to succeed, which is one of the reasons why I have accomplished things in my career”, she said.
Since 2014 she has had various roles within policy and the healthcare system, working for an independent watchdog for the NHS, a director of strategy and partnerships in a carers non-profit organisation, and the NHS Assembly among other things.
Mrs Khan-Shah is also a member of the Partnership’s Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic Network, a group that has been implemented to increase diversity across leadership roles within the NHS.
As part of the Network, Mrs Khan-Shah lead a programme of events for Islamophobia Awareness Month last year, to challenge misconceptions people outside the faith might have.
The events included simple things such as discussions on ‘what is Ramadan?’ and ‘why do Muslims fast at certain times of the year?’
The month also touched on the role of women In Islam, blogs from Muslims talking about their lived experiences and how their faith impacts their work, and a Twitter takeover.
The awareness month is being run again this year, with events to be announced shortly.
Many have experienced hardship through the Covid-19 pandemic, but none more so than unpaid carers. “At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of carers didn’t recognise they were carers”, Mrs Khan-Shah said, which is why “it was difficult at first to get people to engage with Covid-19 vaccines”.
Through adopting a national framework and making it unique to West Yorkshire, Mrs Khan-Shah engaged with the local community to increase knowledge and trust in the vaccine. She also created a handbook for carers in the region which is free and accessible offering guidance on caring during the pandemic and where to access help.
Mrs Khan-Shah also helped introduce an app for young carers to access for free, providing information on where to access extra resources.
Engaging in this type of work while also raising a family and caring can be intense, which is why Mrs Khan-Shah promotes acts of self-care such as taking time away from work, going offline, focusing on her husband and children, and taking time to invest in yourself.
She said: “My family, particularly my husband, has been instrumental in my success.
“He has empowered and encouraged me when I didn’t believe in myself. My children have made sacrifices to enable me to do what I do every day.
“In certain communities, when women have power and influence, people are threatened by that, but my husband has challenged that stereotype head-on and shown that it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support.”
Talking about being listed as one of the top 50 Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic leaders, Mrs Khan-Shah said: I am in absolute shock. A few years ago, I was fighting for change on the edge of the system and now I am nominated as one of the top fifty leaders. This award is not down to me, but the people who support and empower me in West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership and beyond.”