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Improving opportunities for black and minority ethnic staff – Jane Cummings

England’s Chief Nursing Officer shares her thoughts on diversity issues ahead of tomorrow’s ‘Breaking Down Walls’ conference:

I recently had the honour of addressing 300 student nurses, new registrants and Care Makers, all at the early stages of their nursing careers.

I talked to them about my personal and professional commitment to equality and to improving opportunities for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff. When I took questions at the end, I was inspired by the overwhelming reaction from them, our future workforce, as to why race is even an issue in 2014.

The subtitle to the NHS Constitution is ‘The NHS belongs to us all’; that is all of us, regardless of skin colour or ethnicity. The Constitution goes on to state the NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves. Modern Britain is made up of racially diverse communities and patients. If the NHS is to have a sustainable workforce that is fit for the present, the future, and serves its communities, BME staff need to be a full and valued part of that.

But sadly, equality and diversity are not what we would want them to be. How we treat each other reflects how we treat our patients. Treating others how you would wish to be treated is part of what makes compassion real.

As a member of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, I welcomed the news in July that we will be supporting two measures so that BME employees have equal opportunities and treatment in their careers.

Under the proposed workforce race equality standard, organisations will need to demonstrate progress against, among others, an indicator to address the low levels of BME Board representation.

The NHS will also be consulted on whether the Equality Delivery System toolkit (EDS2) should become mandatory. EDS2 aims to help organisations improve services provided for local communities and provide better working environments.

Studies have shown a clear link between the wellbeing of ethnic staff and patients’ perception of care. Frontline staff have a direct impact on patient care. For example, research carried out for Macmillan Cancer Support by the Picker Institute shows that in those hospital Trusts where clinical staff report the highest levels of discrimination, cancer patients are up to 18 times more likely to report a poor quality experience during their hospital stay compared with Trusts with the lowest levels of discrimination.

My colleague Caroline Alexander, Chief Nurse for London, has been working with the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the London Local Supervising Authority to raise awareness of the importance of equity for all staff at work.  Acting in response to the findings of a RCM report which demonstrated that London midwives from BME backgrounds suffer disproportionate disciplinary action at work, Caroline has led a pan-London initiative that seeks not only to raise awareness but also to develop standards and promote best practice in this area.

Caroline’s own personal pledges have meant that London Directors of Nursing and HR Directors have had the opportunity to take stock of their own approaches to staff and what they can learn from colleagues in other organisations and particularly reflect on the importance of this work in improving patient experience.

Caroline’s motivation is simple: “It is unacceptable for NHS staff not be working in an environment that is equitable, caring and values everyone’s contribution to the team.  If we can get this right then the experience of the people who use our services will inevitably be improved”.

As part of my own personal commitment to ethnicity issues, I recently went to the Hackney Museum where a new exhibition was launched: “What a Journey – Caribbean Nurses and the NHS”. I heard stories from women who came to England from the Caribbean to train and work as nurses supporting the NHS and its patients.

These stories were incredibly powerful, demonstrating the 6Cs in action and in particular the courage and commitment shown to cope with the racial abuse and still provide excellent care.

Last year, during Black History Month, I also did a number of presentations talking about diversity equality issues and highlighting the work and achievements of BME staff. I am very much looking forward to addressing tomorrow’s Chief Nursing Officer BME conference ‘Breaking down walls’.

It is my hope the conference will be an encouragement, a challenge, and a signpost along the way to equal BME opportunities.

We must all contribute to delivering this if we value the NHS Constitution, the 6Cs and our commitment to providing the best care to all our patients and equality for our staff.

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One comment

  1. Jayam Dalal says:

    A good way to encourage BME opportunities is for flexibility around giving them time off, to celebrate Diwali or Eid.

    This can work very well in the NHS, particularly when many staff wish to take time off for X-mas. Therefore if Minority groups are allowed time off for their festivals, they would equally be willing to work during X-mas, which is a win-win situation.

    This also shows an understanding of BME needs.