Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES)

The NHS Equality and Diversity Council (EDC) has taken another pivotal step to advance equality within the NHS.

The Council has recommended that a Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) should be mandated via the NHS Standard Contract in England from April 2018, with a preparatory year from 2017-18. NHS England has agreed to do so. The EDC has also agreed to support a programme of work to explain and support it.

The Equality Diversity Council considered the report published by Middlesex and Bedfordshire Universities on the ‘Experience of Disabled Staff in the NHS‘, alongside findings from research carried out by Disability Rights UK and NHS Employers ‘Different Choices, Different Voices’, which found that disabled people had poorer experiences of working in the NHS in England than non-disabled colleagues.

Consultation on the proposed Workforce Disability Equality Standard has begun, alongside an extensive programme of communications and engagement to raise the profile of this initiative and to outline what support will be provided to organisations to deliver the change with disabled staff.

View further information about the Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES).

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England and Co-Chair of the Equality and Diversity Council, said: “We’re committed to tackling inequality in the workplace wherever we find it. The new Workforce Disability Equality Standard will help the NHS fully realise the huge potential of all of our staff, and ensure their individual experiences contribute to improving care for patients.”

Joan Saddler, Co-Chair of the Equality and Diversity Council, said: “Initial learning from implementation of the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) tells us we have to take multi-faceted actions to tackle the real issues around persistent negative discrimination. Learning from the WRES approach must be integrated into the introduction of the Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES). Fundamentally, the WDES seeks to improve patient experience by ensuring organisations employ people with disabilities and view disability as an asset”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “For the NHS, employing people with lived experience of disability or long-term health conditions is a major asset: these staff can draw on their own experiences to show understanding, empathy and role modelling to people using services: people who have recently acquired health conditions or injuries often feel discouraged, and meeting health professionals with their own lived experience makes a significant difference. The WDES should enable the NHS to increase its quality of service and to attract talent’

Ruth Passman, Head of Equality and Health Inequalities, NHS England, said: “This positive step forward for disabled people working in the NHS in England signals widespread recognition amongst NHS system leaders of the significant contribution that disabled staff make to workforce equality and to patient care.”


  1. M.I says:

    As a professional NHS member of staff it saddens me that although we quite rightly give the best possible quality of care to patients, when it comes to NHS staff we suffer harassment, singled out for sickness, disciplined for having serious medical issues. As a BME member of staff the harassment and discrimination is even worse. As a transplant patient and diabetic my experiences have affected my mental heath now.

  2. Natasha says:

    The way I’ve been treated with invisible illnesses in the NHS has made me question my profession, and ultimately I think I will leave the NHS. Such ignorant ill informed people should not be working with patients and potentialy treating them like this too. Education needs to hit all areas primary care, front line staff, colleagues and management.

    I had a disability plan in place, which has been mostly ignored. I had so much to bring to the work force now I have no confidence, I’ve been disempowered and I feel worthless.

  3. clare charlton says:

    I think that the effects on having staff with “invisible illnesses” is of huge benefit to commissioning and patient care, however, there needs to be some education among some primary care providers in recognising these conditions and also dealing with the people with them.

    As said above, it is vital that the NHS recognises people with invisible illnesses have a huge role to play in shaping services and patient care both in the primary and secondary care, assuming the will to do this is present, which is another battle.

  4. Matthew James says:

    The standard is essential. I joined the NHS in 2005 on the Gateway to Leadership programme and at the time was the only Deaf professional to do so, and possibly still am. Since then I have covered 4 posts in the NHS at senior level, including one as General Manager for Equality for the SHA. Even to this day I have not come across another deaf colleague working for a CCG or in acute services. I strongly endorse the need for this standard to mark out where we presently are in terms of employing disabled people, but to also be in a position to disaggregate the data into types of disability or the matters that the person needs to overcome. This level of data is needed so that we can understand where the likely issues are and act on the proactively rather than rely on the individual organisations to figure out what to do about gaps in the data. Disability as an Asset is an important term. Deaf professionals are known to better meet the needs of Deaf patients. Please recognise this.

  5. jean spain says:

    Absolutely right, for too long those with LTC, ie Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Diabetes, ME etc have been excluded from consultations. Those of us with fluctuating conditions DO matter in the work place, especially and should be treated with the respect and empathy they deserve. It is not their fault they develop these conditions but because most of us ‘look ok’ does not mean that we suffer constant pain, fatigue,visual disturbance, balance problems etc and some may not have slept for several nights at a time but are expected to carry on regardless.