Workforce Disability Equality Standard

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.

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

Engagement on the Workforce Disability Equality Standard

Forthcoming engagement workshops have been planned to give people the opportunity to respond find out more about the WDES and the compelling case for a mandated WDES.

As recommended by the Equality and Diversity Council, the NHS Standard contract team have included a requirement on providers to comply, from April 2018, with the new national Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) in the consultation document.

Stakeholders have been invited to submit comments on the proposal to mandate the WDES.

Research evidence for a Workforce Disability Equality Standard

In reaching this significant decision, 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. The draft metrics for the WDES can be viewed here.

Key areas of concern and differential experience for disabled staff

  • Concerns about staff with disabilities’ representation at all levels of the NHS and covering different types of disability.
  • A significant disparity between the proportion of staff who declare a disability on the Electronic Staff Record System and of those who declare a disability on the anonymous NHS staff survey.
  • Differential perceptions about how well disabled staff feel they supported by managers
  • Differential experience of bullying and harassment by peers and managers with disabled staff reporting significantly higher rates than their non-disabled counterparts.
  • Differential levels of confidence for staff with disabilities compared to non-disabled staff with regard to both the value of appraisals and how they feel valued by their organisations.
  • Potential issues for disabled staff with differential levels of access to training and development as non-disabled staff.
  • Variation in whether and how well NHS organisations make reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities, from the recruitment process to the end of employment.
  • Differential numbers of staff with disabilities who are the subject of employment processes and procedures, for example disciplinary and capability processes.

The social action campaign so far – how to get involved!

A WDES steering group and wider network has been established to support disabled staff to drive forward the necessary change. The development of a WDES also includes the concept of ‘Disability as an Asset’. The Disability as an Asset Approach, rather than focusing on how disabled people can be ‘levelled up’ to the capabilities of a ‘normally functioning workforce’, seeks to celebrate diversity and difference, turning perceived ‘deficiency’ into assets. There are proposals to develop and test a range of models across a number of areas including recruitment and workplace delivery (where disabled staff may have a particular ability to help build up trust and rapport, e.g. when communicating diagnoses), with local disabled staff groups.

A national Disability Network has been put in place in the form of an online forum by Disability Rights UK. Everyone can join and initiate or contribute to, discussions on several topics. These may relate directly to the implementation of new models or wider lessons learned, or the business case for communities and health inequalities. To get started a password needs to be requested from