NHS welcomes “important improvements” for race equality in health service workforce

The Chief Executive of NHS England has today welcomed signs of progress in tackling discrimination among health service staff, but warned of “hard work still ahead” in improving equality for all its workers.

Simon Stevens’ comments come as the NHS publishes today its latest annual report into race equality. The audit provides a comprehensive assessment of the experience of NHS employees from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, including whether or not they have equal access to career opportunities and receive fair treatment at work.

The 2017 Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) shows that an increasing proportion of senior nursing and midwifery posts is being filled by people from BME backgrounds, and that there has been a rise in senior BME leaders. The report confirms that an increasing number of trusts has more than one board member from a BME background, with 25 trusts being represented at board level by three or more people from BME communities.

However, the WRES demonstrates areas where the NHS needs to make further progress. Despite significant improvements in board and senior management representation, the overall number of BME background leadership positions is still not proportionate to the number of BME workers at other levels in the organisation.

The report also highlights that although people from BME backgrounds are now less likely to be entered into disciplinary action than in 2016, this same group is 1.4 times more likely to go through this formal process than other members of staff.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England said: “Building a more representative workforce is good both for hard working NHS staff and for the diverse patients and communities we serve. As the largest employer in Britain and one of the biggest in the world, the NHS has a particular duty to be fair and supportive for all our employees. Today’s assessment shows important improvements for our BME staff, but it’s also a clear reminder of the hard work still ahead.”

Marie Gabriel Chair of the WRES Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) and East London NHS Foundation Trust said: “I am encouraged by the findings of this report as it shows some changes taking place in the system. We are not where we would like to be on workforce race equality, but we have moved on from where we started. I am particularly pleased to see the increase in senior leaders and board representation across England, although this still represents a very small number.  I am proud of the work we are doing at East London NHS Foundation Trust and what we have achieved in making our board more inclusive and we are dedicated to improving further.”

Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England and Senior Responsible Officer for WRES said: “I am happy that for the second year in a row, there is evidence of some continued improvement in the WRES data of some trusts and that we have seen a sustained increase in the number of BME nurses in senior posts. There is still a lot to be done to ensure we see more BME nursing and midwifery staff taking on more senior roles. For the first time, the London region has made some slight improvement, which I hope to see continue in the coming years.”

The WRES has a clear set of objectives which include supporting organisations to understand the importance of engaging with all members of staff, ensuring there is fair representation of the workforce at all levels of the service, including boards.

The ultimate goal of supporting workers, strengthening accountability and sustaining improvements on WRES data will lead to better outcomes for patients.