The Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) was launched just under three years ago to help NHS organisations focus on fundamental improvements to the experiences and opportunities for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff.
It was launched to help increase organisational efficiency and productivity and, most importantly, to contribute towards improvement in the quality of care for all patients.
The WRES team in NHS England supported organisations in understanding the intensity of the challenge. We also developed a set of indicators designed to initiate continuous improvement in data relating to the treatment of, and opportunities for, BME staff within the NHS – holding up a mirror to organisations with regard to their own data and performance.
The 2017 WRES data report for NHS trusts, published last week, shows a welcomed degree of improvement in certain areas:
First, there continues to be a significant increase in the number of BME nurses and midwives entering senior grades. Almost 2,000 more BME nurses and midwives have been appointed in senior positions over the last three year period.
Secondly, the latest data highlight an increase of 18% in the number of very senior managers (VSM) from BME backgrounds – although the proportion of BME staff in Bands 8a – 9 and VSM is still lower than the overall BME workforce – 10.4% compared with16.4%.
Thirdly, there has been an overall decrease in the likelihood of BME staff entering formal disciplinary investigations – from 1.56 times more likely in 2016, to 1.38 times in 2017. Further work on this indicator is underway particularly with organisations and parts of the NHS that require the most support, with positive lessons learned being shared to reduce inequality.
There is also a significant increase in the number of NHS trusts that have BME members on their boards. There are now a total of 25 NHS trusts across England that have three or more BME board members – this is an increase of nine trusts since 2016.
There is still much work to do.
While, as highlighted above, some gaps in the workplace experience and opportunities between BME and white staff have decreased, they still nonetheless exist. Furthermore, white staff remain more likely to be appointed following shortlisting than their BME counterparts; the ethnicity gaps in the experience of bullying in the workplace remain, and both the London region and the ambulance sector remain outliers on this agenda.
Concerted work in all of these areas is underway. This work is based upon the shared characteristics of effective interventions on workforce race equality, which we presented in the 2016 WRES data report for NHS trusts. History tells us that work on race equality, and on equality in general, is often short-lived – when the budget runs out, or the champion burns out, there remains little knowledge of the good work carried out.
Sustainability is therefore the key here; not only will the practical support given to the system by the WRES team to date continue, it is also being augmented by interventions to help facilitate cultural and transformational change in this area. There is very often a misconception that it should be one or the other; however, we want to be at a place where organisations and people undertake work on this important agenda, not just because they have to, but because they want to.
Tackling workforce race inequality is not an optional extra. Investing in fairer treatment for staff has been shown to give excellent value for money by delivering better outcomes for patients, greater staff engagement and satisfaction, and the more productive use of resources.
Work to further emphasise these relationships continues to grow. However for now, in the ever evolving healthcare architecture, this year’s WRES data report is another reminder of what is possible when it comes to workforce race equality in the NHS.