Chair appointed to lead NHS drive to reduce health inequalities

A longstanding health leader and advocate on inequalities has been chosen to head up the health service’s major new work programme into the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has announced today at NHS England and NHS Improvement’s public board meeting.

Following open advertisement, Marie Gabriel CBE will lead the NHS Race and Health Observatory (RHO), which has been tasked with identifying and tackling the specific health challenges facing people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds in England today.

The RHO is hosted by the NHS Confederation.

Ms Gabriel is currently Chair of North East London STP, and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, and has previously chaired East London NHS Foundation Trust, NHS North East London, and the City and Newham Primary Care Trust, following over two decades in senior executive roles within local government, housing and the third sector.

Marie also has a number of national strategic NHS roles including as Chair of the NHS WRES Strategic Advisory Group, and as Board Member of NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, NHS Employers Policy Board and NHS People Plan Advisory Group.

Commenting on her appointment, Marie Gabriel said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been appointed as Chair of the Race and Health Observatory and I am really looking forward to working with colleagues to evidence, share and support true improvement in achieving race equity.

“The Observatory is a critical next step in the NHS race equality journey. It will ensure that we harness the expertise of both our academics and of our communities, it will challenge but also support the implementation of practical solutions and in so doing seek to radically address the health inequalities experienced by black and minority ethnic communities.

“Achieving equity has always been my prime motivator and I truly believe that the ambitions of the Observatory provide an opportunity for us all to systematically improve the access, experience and outcomes of BME communities.”

NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said: “Good health and access to good care is a right that everyone should expect, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or socio-economic status. The coronavirus pandemic has injected fresh urgency into the need to turn this right into reality, including for people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

“Although tackling wider inequalities cannot fall to the NHS alone, the health service has to both listen and lead if it is going to be part of the solution. The Observatory will bring together expertise to offer practical, useful suggestions for change, and I look forward to working with Marie in this important new role.”

The ROH will continuing to appoint independent experts to its steering group, and the Observatory is expected to be fully established later this year.

Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of NHS Confederation, said: “We are thrilled that Marie has accepted the position of chair. She will be an incredible asset to the Observatory, as her passion for overcoming health inequalities, as well as her far-reaching experience as a leader in the NHS, give her the insight and wisdom needed to lead in this extremely important area.

“The COVID-19 crisis has cast an inescapable spotlight on racial inequalities, as Black and minority ethnic communities and healthcare staff have suffered a disproportionate impact from the pandemic. We look forward to working with Marie as the Observatory takes on the vital task of helping to transform the unjustly disparate outcomes for patients, communities and NHS staff, caused by racial inequality.”

NHS England and NHS Improvement has also moved to bolster its work on tackling workplace inequalities by appointing two new experts to its senior leadership team.

Jenni Douglas-Todd and Mike Franklin will be joining the national NHS bodies as Joint Directors of Equality and Inclusion following an open recruitment process.

In their roles, they will work to ensure that equality and inclusion underpin and are at the forefront of workforce aspirations, including the delivery of the upcoming People Plan update, reporting directly to Prerana Issar, NHS chief people officer.

NHS England will also shortly publish two new documents in its series on the implementation of the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) within the health service.

The first details performance against WRES indicators for 11 NHS national bodies in 2019, and the second is a new bespoke set of indicators to allow analysis of career progression and representation amongst the health service’s medical workforce.


  • Marie Gabriel’s biography can be viewed here.
  • Jenni Douglas-Todd is currently the Independent Chair of the Dorset Integrated Care System, where she is focused on reducing health inequalities, and Deputy chair and senior independent director at University Hospitals Southampton, where she has focused on developing a more diverse workforce. Her prior career spanned the probation service and Home Office, where she spent four years before becoming Director of policy and research for the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In the latter role she was responsible for establishing governance of the new police complaints system. In 2009, Jenni became Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer for Hampshire Police Authority and subsequently the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and in 2014 took on the role of an investigating committee chair for the General Dental Council.
  • Mike Franklin is one of the Non-Executive Directors for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. He is a former commissioner with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, served as Her Majesty’s Assistant Inspector of Constabulary, and has acted as a specialist assistant inspector for race and diversity across 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  • These reports are part of the wider Workforce Race Equality Standard programme (WRES) which was introduced by NHS England in 2015 in order to drive improvements in this area.
  • The first phase of the WRES focused on supporting the system to understand the nature of the challenge of workforce race equality and for leaders to recognise that it was their responsibility to help make the necessary changes.