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NHS commits to long-term support for race equality

The annual Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) reveals that while there has been a year-on-year improvement in black and minority ethnic (BME) representation in the most senior NHS roles - including at board level - and an increase in recruitment from these backgrounds, the health service still needs progress in a number of areas. 


The WRES reviews the treatment of BME staff in England’s NHS, measured across nine key metrics, including representation, experience of discrimination and access to senior roles.


Between 2016 and 2018 data analysis shows continuous improvement across the range of workforce indicators. BME staff now make up 19.1% of the workforce in NHS Trusts and there were 10,407 more BME staff across Trusts in 2018 compared to 2017. 


The proportion of BME staff in very senior manager (VSM) positions has increased from 5.7% in 2017 to 6.9% in 2018, which is still significantly lower than the proportion of BME staff (19.1%) in NHS Trusts. The number of BME board members has also increased.


However, there has been a reduction in the number of BME staff who believe that their Trust provides equal opportunities for career progression or promotion at 71.5% down from 75.5% in 2016. There has also been an increase in the percentage of BME staff reporting the experience of discrimination in the last 12 months, from 13.8% to 15%. In contrast, 6.6% of white staff reported the experience of discrimination at work.


To build on progress in successive years and tackle problem areas, NHS England’s Chief Executive and the Director for the WRES have committed to funding a package of measures to improve race equality across the health service for the next seven years, supported by £1 million funding each year until at least 2025.


To ensure the proposals make a practical difference for staff, NHS England has appointed a team of 42 experts from within the existing workforce, who will work with senior staff to close the gaps between BME and white staff.


Yvonne Coghill, Director of WRES Implementation at NHS England says: 

“Investing in the WRES into the middle of the next decade will help us make the changes in the NHS that our staff and patients need and deserve.


“Our experts are already supporting organisations to improve their race equality strategies, with a second group set to join them and champion the programme across the NHS in England.”


Selected experts include those working in HR and equality, project management and clinical medical teams.  All have received intensive training and will provide a supportive in-house expert role, alongside their substantive posts.


The new cohort joins a network of over 80 WRES expert ambassadors, overseeing and championing the programme across the NHS in England.


Richard Worlock, Equality and Diversity Facilitator at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, was nominated and completed the programme in 2018. He says: “I wanted to be part of the WRES expert programme to help my Trust improve their performance and ensure BME staff are treated equally. I am very proud to have been part of it. Learning about the WRES in detail was a privilege along with meeting other new and committed experts from across the NHS. I now feel inspired at work knowing I am supporting a culture geared towards a fairer workplace for everyone.”


In December 2018, NHS England and NHS Improvement agreed a joint strategy, which called on NHS organisations in 2019 – with the support of the national WRES team – to set their own targets and action plans for BME representation across their leadership team and broader workforce for the next three years.


Dr Habib Naqvi, WRES Policy Lead at NHS England says: “The NHS is at its best when it reflects the diversity of the country and where the leadership of organisations reflects its workforce.


“Whilst we have seen improvements in a number of areas, the latest WRES data report is a reminder of the challenges we still face, which is why we are continuing to support NHS organisations to better reflect their workforce in their own leadership.


“Our WRES experts are key to this – providing local NHS organisations with advice and support, helping to ensure better treatment for staff across the country.”


Amber Jabbal, Head of Policy at NHS Providers has welcomed the progress but reiterates there is more to do. "It is good to see BME representation among the NHS workforce growing year-on-year, but as this data shows there is still much to do to encourage and support more people from a BME background into senior roles," she says.


"Leaders from BME backgrounds bring a wealth of experience to leadership roles as well as frontline roles. It is important that NHS has a leadership which reflects the growing diversity of its workforce."


The report also provides analysis by geographical region and type of Trust.


Download the full report here.