Allied health professional workforce diversity

During recent years collectively we as Allied Health Professions (AHPs) made significant progress across a range of agendas. However, the work we have done to recognise and improve the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) diversity of our AHP workforce has frankly been insufficient. I do not expect your forgiveness, but I do hope that as you read through the rest of this blog, you are assured that my team and I are 100% committed to addressing this.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is central to our business and we are committed to tackling structural inequalities, as well as any negative behavioural impacts, to ensure we are fair, just and inclusive in everything we do.

The Black Lives Matter campaign, highlighted by the tragic death of George Floyd in May, has brought into sharp focus the ongoing injustice experienced by BAME populations across society. COVID-19 has led to further suffering for BAME communities with a significantly disproportionate impact. I would like to pause momentarily to remember those of our BAME AHP workforce that have lost their lives during this pandemic. Every death has been a tragedy, but the loss to our AHP family is painfully felt.

AHPs make up the third largest clinical workforce in health and care but have one of the lowest percentages of BAME workers, at 12.2%, below the UK population average of 13.9% and significantly below the NHS workforce average of 19.9%. When considering BAME representation in bandings of 8a and above, this figure drops to well below 10%, so there is a significant amount of work to do. Sir Simon Stevens, CEO NHS England, has made a firm commitment that the NHS will lead on this, as a model employer. Importantly, what we do know, is that there is significant variation with regards to BAME representation across the 14 professions and this also differs regionally. Where this is positive, it is essential that we learn and understand how this has been achieved. But we must also not hide behind the need for more data, but instead recognise that it is our collective responsibility to improve the experience and representation of AHPs from BAME populations, by listening to their stories and lived experience. I often refer to the quote ‘no data without stories and no stories without data’. We have the data, so we must now start to act and seek those stories.

Therefore, I am announcing the establishment of the Chief Allied Health Profession Officer’s (CAHPO) BAME Strategic Advisory Forum. This forum will enable members to contribute to shaping strategy and action by sharing and highlighting best practice.  Importantly, it will advise me, to ensure the specific actions we take to improve representation of and leadership opportunities for BAME AHPs are the right ones, with the greatest sustainable impact.

This key forum will consist of a representative nominated by each of the AHP professional bodies and a nominated representative from each of the seven AHP regional strategic councils in England. But crucially, I want to gain representation from AHPs from across the health and care sector, at all stages of the career lifecycle including students. I am launching an open recruitment process for AHPs interested in being part of this forum and supporting us to achieve real, tangible change in the diversity of our workforce.

The application portal is on the NHS England and NHS Improvement website. I really encourage you to consider applying.

This is a journey we must all go on together, to live and breathe the frustration and injustices faced by our colleagues daily. The Kings Fund recently published an article ‘A long way to go’: ethnic minority NHS staff share their stories. This article features an AHP, who describes her experiences of working in the NHS. Evident within this is her frustration caused by the absence of role models to aspire to at senior grades. I also heard from a student AHP who left her course programme due to the racism experienced whilst on placement. It is incumbent on us all to ensure the experiences and opportunities of our BAME colleagues are equal to those of white colleagues. We must create a healthy, inclusive and compassionate culture, focusing on valuing and respecting all, regardless of their skin colour.

By making inclusion and diversity a core focus of the recently published NHS People Plan (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2020), each of us is committing to actively changing the culture experienced by our BAME colleagues within the workplace. We all have a part to play. I am committed to making change to ensure our BAME AHP colleagues receive a working experience that is not predicated on the colour of their skin, but the unique experience and skill that we possess as AHPs, to maximise the potential of our people and populations that we serve.

Suzanne Rastrick

Suzanne qualified as an Occupational Therapist from Oxford. Suzanne was the first Allied Health Professional (AHP) to hold a substantive Director of Nursing post in both provider and commissioning organisations. She became the Chief Executive of a Primary Care Trust, where a particular highlight was having leadership responsibility for delivering health resilience and health ‘blue light’ services during the Olympic sailing events held in Dorset in 2012. She subsequently gained authorisation for a large Clinical Commissioning Group, before moving to her current post with NHS England. She was appointed as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England in September 2014.

In 2017 Suzanne launched the first AHP strategy for England which has been recognised as ground-breaking in policy development from its use of crowdsourcing. Building on this, Suzanne published the second AHP strategy – ‘AHPs Deliver’ in June 2022. This iteration had a greater emphasis on patient, public voice and specifically the inclusion of those who may be digitally excluded along with communities who may find it difficult to connect with traditional consultation methods. The result is a national strategy crowdsourced from diverse populations for people and communities AHPs serve.

For over three decades, Suzanne has held non-executive portfolios outside of the NHS, including audit committee chair roles, predominantly in the housing and charitable sector. Suzanne was recognised as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s birthday honours list 2019. In 2023 Suzanne was awarded a Visiting Professor role at St George’s, University of London and at Oxford Brookes University.

Follow Suzanne on Twitter/X @SuzanneRastrick or Instagram @chief_ahp_officer_england