North West Region: a strategic forum to tackle inequalities

Naheed NazirThe North West Regional BAME Assembly was set up in July 2020 as a strategic forum for senior NHS leaders from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Assembly members have co-produced a 10-year strategy to tackle underlying racism within structures and embed pan-region action on inequalities which cause poorer health outcomes. A supporting framework and resources will be available to all NHS regions.

The disproportionate effect of the COVID pandemic depending on ethnicity shone a light on the many demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors which contribute to health inequalities.

The BAME Assembly is a strategic advisory committee set up by the North West Developing Health system, co-chaired by the NHS England and NHS Improvement North West Regional Director, Bill McCarthy, and Evelyn Asante Mensah, Chair of Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. It was conceived as a forum where senior NHS people of colour could come together to shape an agenda for long-term structural change.

“People were reiterating that they were tired of saying the same thing over and over again,” recalls Naheed Nazir, Group Associate Director: Inclusion and Engagement at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group. “They wanted to come together to influence the system to tackle racism. We realised that we needed to amplify the voice of the BAME community within their organisations and challenge people to think more deeply about longstanding, deep-rooted inequalities using a BAME or race lens. The disparities highlighted by COVID spurred us to push forward at a faster pace.”

Taking an inclusive approach

The Assembly brings together over 70 senior NHS people of colour in the region, including trust CEOs, Board chairs and non-executive directors. “We took a deliberately inclusive approach,” stresses Naheed. “We wanted all willing voices included in the conversation so people could influence and support each other across the system. The Assembly’s brief is to make a measurable, significant and sustainable step change in tackling racism, discrimination and health inequalities.

“Influencing the causes of inequality throughout the NHS care system will have a significant influence on society as a whole,” Bill stresses. Evelyn agrees: “We believe we can bring about real improvements by working with our NHS colleagues as our allies to improve knowledge of the issues that our BAME colleagues face, not just in the NHS but society in general.”

Preparing to make a difference

The work of the Assembly forms part of the North West region’s broader EDI delivery plan. Members have co-produced a 10-year action plan which focuses on:

  • Addressing underlying racism within structures
  • Embedding action on inequalities which result in poorer health outcomes
  • Ensuring programme management support, capability building and mentoring/coaching opportunities
  • Increasing engagement with staff by empowering BAME networks to reach out and up.

An Assembly working group is focusing on inequalities in specific areas, including recruitment, career progression and talent management, aligned with the People Plan. Based on these themes, the group has created a framework that incorporates a range of practical resources for use across the region, launching in April 2021. This will be available to other regions.

“We know this isn’t a quick win,” says Naheed. “Racism has existed for decades, hence our 10-year plan. It’s taken months of hard work to get to where we are, but our hope is that we can now lead the way to influence and empower others. Our mission is for our NHS in the North West to be clearly and unashamedly anti-racist.“

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