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NHS will have to prove it is free of racial inequality

Trusts and CCGs will have to meet racial equality standards

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 31 July 2014

New standards could be introduced into the NHS that will ensure employees from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds have equal access to career opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace.

The NHS Equality and Diversity Council (NHS EDC) today announced it was committed, subject to consultation with the NHS, to implement two measures to improve equality across the NHS, which would start in April 2015.

CCG boards, however, are more racially balanced than those at acute trusts, with double the proportion of BME members on CCGs than on their secondary care equivalent boards.

The move by the diversity council follows recent reports which have highlighted disparities in the number of BME people in senior leadership positions across the NHS, as well as lower levels of wellbeing amongst the BME population.

A report‘Snowy White Peaks’ of the NHS by Roger Kline, research fellow at Middlesex University Business School, published in April, said that although 41% of NHS staff in London are from BME groups, the proportion of BME representatives on London NHS trust boards is only 8%.

In addition, the proportion of chief executives from a BME background on London trust boards has decreased from 5% in 2006 to 2.5% in 2014; and the proportion of senior and very senior BME managers has not increased since 2008.

The first of the proposals by the diversity council is a workforce race equality standard that would, for the first time, require organisations employing almost all of the 1.4 million NHS workforce to demonstrate progress against a number of indicators of workforce equality, including a specific indicator to address the low levels of BME board representation.

Alongside that standard, the NHS would be consulted on whether it should become mandatory for each organisation to have in place the Equality Delivery System (EDS2), which is a toolkit (currently voluntarily used across the NHS) designed to help organisations improve the services they provide for their local communities and provide better working environments for all groups.

NHS England said it would consult on incorporating the new standard and EDS2 for the first time in the 2015-16 standard NHS contract.

Regulators – the Care Quality Commission and Monitor – will also consider using the standard to help assess whether organisations are “well-led”.

The proposal would be applicable to providers, and extended to CCGs through the annual CCG assurance process.

The situation over racial equality is slightly better within CCGs as the Kline report says at least 18% of CCG governing body members in London are from BME backgrounds – approximately double the proportion of BME members of NHS trust boards.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive and chair of the diversity council, said: “We want an NHS ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. That’s because care is far more likely to meet the needs of all the patients we’re here to serve when NHS leadership is drawn from diverse communities across the country, and when all our frontline staff are themselves free from discrimination.”

Roger Kline said: “This proposal to implement a new standard is exactly the kind of decisive action we need to drive improvements and address inequalities across the sector. This innovative approach could have an extremely powerful impact for staff and patients alike, and has the potential to change the face of the NHS.”

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