Workforce Disability Equality Standard

In July 2014 Middlesex University submitted its report ‘The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS’ to NHS England.  This looked at the representation and experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Trust Board Members within NHS Trusts in London.  Partly as a result of this research, the Equality and Diversity Council (EDC) agreed to make a Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) mandatory in the NHS Standard contract.  During consultation about the WRES, NHS England was asked to consider the experiences of other protected groups within the NHS workforce in England and so a primarily quantitative project was commissioned.

The research focused on the experiences of staff with disabilities within the NHS, drawing upon two national data sets:

  • The 2014 NHS staff survey, completed by 255,000 staff, reporting their experiences of working in the NHS
  • The Electronic Staff Record (ESR), comprising data on the entire NHS workforce, gathered for workforce planning, personnel and wage payment purposes.

The research required a focus on the following issues:

  1. What is staff with disabilities’ representation at all levels of the NHS and covering different types of disability?
  2. Why is there a 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?
  3. How well are staff supported who become disabled during the course of their employment? Is there a process for recording this on the staff survey?
  4. What are appraisal rates for staff with disabilities compared to non-disabled staff?
  5. Do staff with disabilities have similar levels of access to training and development as non-disabled staff?
  6. How well do NHS organisations make reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities, from the recruitment process to the end of employment?
  7. What difference does the ‘two ticks’ symbol make to recruitment and employment?
  8. What are the numbers of staff with disabilities who are the subject of employment processes and procedures, for example disciplinary and capability processes?
  9. What are the turn-over, retention and stability rates for staff with disabilities within the NHS?

The full report has been published on the Middlesex University website. This complemented research commissioned by NHS Employers and carried out by Disability Rights UK, which looked at qualitative experiences of disabled staff in the NHS workplace. This had highlighted more detail on barriers to recruitment and disability-related absence for example, but also considered drivers for disabled staff to add value at strategic planning and frontline delivery levels of working.

A summary of the research was submitted to the EDC in July 2015 who asked for a paper about the possible introduction of a Workforce Disability Equality Standard to be submitted to its October 2015 meeting.  The EDC expressed support for the scoping of the Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) and a campaign of engagement and social action.

A WDES steering group has been established and a communications and engagement plan is being finalised. 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 plans to develop and test a range of models across a number of areas and stages 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 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 more widely. To get started a password needs to be requested from

The Draft Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) Metrics

In July 2016 The Equality Diversity Council (EDC) recommended that a Workforce Disability Equality Standard should be mandated through the NHS Standard Contract in England from April 2018, with a preparatory year from 2017-18.

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.

Consultation Workshops

Forthcoming consultation workshops planned on the WDES Metrics as part of the NHS Standard Contract consultation:

  • London Workshop – 17 October 2016 from 1-4pm – Venue – Richmond House, London
  • Taunton Workshop – 17 October 2016 from 2-5pm – venue – South West House, Taunton
  • Manchester/Leeds – 21 October 2016 – time and venue to be confirmed
  • Birmingham/Leicester workshop – date and time to be confirmed

If you have any queries or comments, please email

For more information on the WDES, please contact the Equality and Health Inequalities Unit.