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The NHS Equality and Diversity Council today announced action to ensure employees from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds have equal access to career opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace.
The move follows recent reports which have highlighted disparities in the number of BME people in senior leadership positions across the NHS, as well as lower levels of wellbeing amongst the BME population.
The Council has pledged its commitment, subject to consultation with the NHS, to implement two measures to improve equality across the NHS, which would start in April 2015.
The first is a workforce race equality standard that would, for the first time, require organisations employing almost all of the 1.4 million NHS workforce to demonstrate progress against a number of indicators of workforce equality, including a specific indicator to address the low levels of BME Board representation.
Alongside the standard, the NHS will be consulted on whether the Equality Delivery System (EDS2) should also become mandatory. This is a toolkit, currently voluntarily used across the NHS, which aims to help organisations improve the services they provide for their local communities and provide better working environments for all groups.
To advance these two proposals, NHS England has agreed to consult on incorporating the new standard and EDS2 two for the first time in the 2015/16 standard NHS contract. The regulators – the Care Quality Commission and Monitor – will also consider using the standard to help assess whether organisations are ‘well-led’.
The proposal would be applicable to providers, and extended to clinical commissioning groups through the annual CCG assurance process.
Simon Stevens, NHS England’s Chief Executive and Chair of the NHS EDC, said: “We want an NHS ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. That’s because care is far more likely to meet the needs of all the patients we’re here to serve when NHS leadership is drawn from diverse communities across the country, and when all our frontline staff are themselves free from discrimination.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, said: “It is vital that Boards reflect the diversity of local populations and the NHS workforce. We are keen to ensure that early progress is made on improving levels of BME representation at Board level and in senior leadership positions across the NHS.”
The EDC is committed to promote equality for all, ensuring no one is left behind, and will ensure that patient, service user and carer perspectives are central to its work. It also plans to initiate work to advance equality for other groups protected by the Equality Act.
Roger Kline, Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School and author of ‘Snowy White Peaks of the NHS’ said: “The EDC has recognised the link between the treatment of BME staff and the quality of patient care and understands the importance of boards representing the diverse communities they serve. This proposal to implement a new standard is exactly the kind of decisive action we need to drive improvements and address inequalities across the sector. This innovative approach could have an extremely powerful impact for staff and patients alike, and has the potential to change the face of the NHS.”
Katherine Murphy, Patients Association, said: “Diversity in leadership is associated with more patient-centred care, improved patient access, experience and outcomes and higher staff morale, which ultimately is the aim for everyone using and working across the NHS.”
Scott Durairaj, Head of Patient Experience – Mental Health and Learning Disability, NHS England, said: “I was delighted to see the leadership demonstrated by the EDC, who are serious about addressing the sustained inequalities experienced by many BME staff, who are also patients too. It will be important to ensure that BME staff can be heard in the consultation and it was positive to see the EDC consider how important staff and patient experience is in coming to the proposed solutions.”
Gail Adams, Head of Nursing for UNISON and member of the EDC said: “I welcome the commitment to consultation and engagement, considering with patients, trade unions, employers and staff, what can be achieved by both options. However if we consider these processes as architecture, the bricks and mortar is getting on with effecting change and doing this by addressing the lack of diversity in leadership and over representation of BME staff in disciplinary procedures. Whatever the process we shouldn’t and must not wait to address these two key issues, staff wont thank us and in effect this is what the service will be judged on not our processes. As an EDC we must act now by working with others to develop tools and resources for local organisations to use in partnership to address diversity gaps and review their data on staff disciplinary. From this they must collaboratively have action plans in place to change.”
Tom Cahill, Equality and Diversity Council member and Chief Executive, Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know there are many examples of good practice on equality in the NHS. We will look to shine a light on such practice, to make the difference that our patients, the public and the workforce need and deserve.”