Our recent NHS Equality and Diversity Council Working Group meeting was encouraging and productive, ratifying the transformation of the NHS People Plan’s key drivers into meaningful actions.
Despite our NHS being made up of many different organisations, this year more than ever there’s the feeling of the NHS as one team. People have been redeployed across services and teams in the spirit of a shared endeavour. Therefore, the cultivation of our workforce as we enter a new phase of recovery, driving belonging and growing with an eye on the horizon, is vital. We need to continue looking after our most valuable resource, our people, and foster a sense of belonging whilst growing for the future.
With recovery our priority, what that means will be different for each and every person. Our ultimate goals, however, remain resolute; striving to improve the lives of all, commitment to the quality of care, maintaining respectful relationships and compassionately championing equality. Everybody counts. It feels from the discussions that we’re at the forefront of an improved model for equality, diversity and inclusion in our workplace.
Dr Bola Owolabi, our Director of Health Inequalities, spoke of her team’s focus on equitable access, excellent experience and optimal outcomes, alongside wider determinants of health and life course conditions for the more deprived, people living with a disability and inclusion health groups.
The answers to some challenging questions, such what more the NHS can do to deliver its mission, lie in empowering integrated care systems (ICSs) to lead health and social care provision from primary all the way through to tertiary care – a major success in delivering almost 30 million first vaccination doses, with over 15 million people now fully vaccinated
During the past year, four main priority areas of focus to reduce workforce inequalities are:
- The Model Employer, which aligns with our Workforce race equality standard implementation strategy
- National standards improvement
- Promotion and disciplinary practices
- Supporting the growth and further development of staff networks
I found our discussion around volunteering during COVID-19 truly inspirational. What stood out for me was the myriad ways in which certain areas had made their voluntary response culturally appropriate.
I was also struck by two contributions which go to the heart of equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) thinking.
Firstly, the recognition that EDI staff are both NHS staff and part of the wider community. We hear that for some EDI staff there is a feeling that the role can be “career limiting”. Acknowledging that the role can be challenging, we must do all we can to support colleagues in these important roles.
The newly established NHS Cadets scheme provides a strong link from the service to people and place. This scheme is on track to be 10,000-strong, offering 14 to 18-year-old volunteers from marginalised backgrounds an opportunity to help heal their communities, developing healthcare skills such as first-aid and leadership in the process. This valuable resource is set to become an even more significant part of our dedicated workforce going forward.
Unquestionably, the NHS is at its best when it reflects the diversity of the country, and where the leadership of organisations reflects its workforce. We’ve put ourselves in a good position with the amount of data collected to avoid workforce complacency, but this needs to be championed at board level to make sure that data is reported and thereby acted upon swiftly to make the most emphatic positive impact.
Our collective responsibility is to reduce inequalities, tackle poor health, discrimination and racism with the same commitment and aptitude we uphold to improving patient lives in the NHS. The outcome and actions of these meetings will have a significant part to play in enabling this.