Leeds Teaching Hospitals is one of the largest and busiest NHS hospital trusts in England, with a workforce of approximately 18,000 staff, of whom 3,700 are from a Black Asian and minority ethnic (BME) background. At the heart of everything are ‘The Leeds Way’ values and behaviours ‒ patient-centred, fair, collaborative, accountable and empowered ‒ and during these exceptional times these values and behaviours continue to be of the utmost importance.
What was the aim/problem?
Protecting the health, safety and welfare of the entire workforce is a key organisational priority. When evidence emerged that COVID-19 was having a disproportionate impact on people from a BME background, it became even more important to support and assure colleagues the trust was doing everything it could to protect them.
What was the solution?
The trust has a well-established BME staff network and strong partnership arrangements with trade unions. The first step was to consult with both the network and staff representatives. A steering group chaired by the director of HR and organisational development (OD) was established and an action plan quickly agreed.
The key step was a programme of positive action (as defined in the Equality Act 2010). The main element of this was ensuring all BME colleagues had a supportive conversation with their manager – so that all necessary action had been taken to protect them and to discuss any concerns and anxieties they may have.
A template was developed to prompt conversations in relation to home working, travel to and from work (where working from home was not possible) and redeployment. Understanding individual circumstances, to establish any health conditions, personal protective equipment (PPE) needs, caring responsibilities and personal circumstances was a priority.
The template also signposted colleagues to other support such as the BME staff network, occupational health, HR, recognised unions, the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian and health and wellbeing support. Copies of the completed template were provided to each colleague for future reference.
To ensure wide participation, in addition to communications across the trust, a personal letter was sent to all BME colleagues by email and to their home address. These letters set out the reasons for the positive action and requested proactive contact with line managers.
Every clinical service unit and corporate area identified a lead to share information, support BME colleagues and managers and provide assurance all actions had been completed.
What were the challenges?
The main challenge was balancing the need to consult, communicate effectively and act quickly.
Reaching all BME colleagues including those with no declared ethnicity on the electronic staff register (ESR) was also a challenging exercise. Feedback from some BME colleagues indicated some discomfort about positive action. With the support of the BME staff network, union partners and commissioning support unit (CSU) leads, the rationale for the positive action was set out.
Another challenge was ensuring information governance (IG) compliance in processing sensitive personal data. This required close consultation with the IG lead.
What were the results?
Feedback from the BME staff network, colleagues and their families was positive. Colleagues shared a feeling of being more assured during these uncertain times.
The BME staff network grew quickly over just a few weeks, with more than 500 members receiving updates and taking part in virtual discussion groups about COVID-19.
What were the learning points?
A key learning point was the importance of early and meaningful consultation with the BME staff network and staff representatives. Time spent on this at the beginning resulted in a better response and a smoother implementation further down the line.
Next steps and sustainability?
The trust continues to monitor and discuss the emerging evidence in relation to BME individuals, working to ensure that supportive conversations are not a one- off exercise but are followed up regularly.
Want to know more
Please contact Harjit Tanda: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Lewis, director of human resources and occupational development said: “We have a longstanding close relationship with our trust’s BME staff network, and this was a great example of how that collaborative working has helped us to understand this issue and how to deal with it. We’re grateful for all the efforts of the BME staff network and the staff themselves, and we remain available at all times to support those who may still be concerned.”