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Noticeable by their absence

Room at the NHS top? Not if you’re black
Hajera Blagg, Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Unite will play a leading role in tackling race inequality in the health service, which was discussed on Tuesday (July 14) at a conference held by the union, launching its campaign to support black, Asian and ethnic minorities (BAEMs) in NHS workplaces.

The campaign was launched in response to a report published last year which found that race inequality was rife within the health sector – a problem that has in fact become even worse over the past decade.

Findings from the ground-breaking survey led to a substantive change in NHS policy, which will come into effect this year. The new policy, the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES), requires NHS organisations to report how they are addressing race equality issues in a range of staffing areas.

According to the report, The snowy white peaks of the NHS, BAEMs are gravely underrepresented in leadership positions in the NHS, even though a substantial part of the workforce are ethnic minorities.

The survey, authored by Roger Kline, a research fellow at Middlesex University and former head of health at a Unite predecessor union, examined NHS trusts in London, where 41 per cent of NHS staff, and 45 per cent of the entire population, are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

But at the top of many of these NHS trusts, black and minority ethnic people are all but absent – 40 per cent of London’s NHS Trust Boards had no BAEM members at all, while over half of the Trusts either had no black and minority ethnic non-executive members or no executive members.

The report also found that the likelihood of white staff being in either senior or very senior management positions was three times the likelihood of BAEMs being in the same positions.

Leading the way

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland explained the central role that Unite will play in new initiatives to tackle institutional racism in the NHS, with today’s conference held to prompt discussion among members and leaders in the sector.

“Unite has organised this conference as another step in its support for tackling race inequality in the NHS,” she said. “In 2004, there was a commitment given to tackling underrepresentation of BAEMs throughout the NHS and of dealing better and more effectively with race discrimination. Ten years on, not only has it not got better, it’s actually gotten worse, which is a disgrace.”

“We as a union are recognising that we’ve got a really important role to play in addressing this issue – especially in terms of making sure workplaces are adhering to the new mandatory [WRES] standard.
But Holland emphasised that if race inequalities are ever to be stamped out, “it has to be more than just about ticking boxes – important though that is sometimes.”

“It’s also about a culture change; it’s also about recognising that if you get race equality right, then it can have a massive impact on job satisfaction for people at work, but also patient care.

“All the information provided today shows that the cost of inequality is really detrimental to the NHS, so in fact, if you invest in properly delivering on race equality, you are also properly delivering on patient care,” she added.


Author of the seminal report, Roger Kline (pictured), who spoke at Tuesday’s conference, hailed the new NHS WRES standard that aims to seriously tackle race inequalities.



Roger Kline

“The change in NHS policy that came about after our report and other research is a solid, evidence-based one,” he said. “I’m reasonably optimistic that it will make a significant change in both patient care and workplace equality within the NHS because, for one, it’s mandatory, and also because it’s got numbers in it.”

The WRES standard will encompass nine different metrics. Four metrics will relate to workforce representation in leadership positions, and another four will relate to findings from a national NHS staff survey, which asks staff questions about their experiences with bullying or harassment. The ninth metric calls for NHS boards to be broadly representative of the population they serve.

Kline explained that many different researchers have found that there’s a direct link between workplace equality and greater patient satisfaction.

“I’m confident in five years’ time there will be plenty of evidence after the policy has been implemented that patients will be far better off,” he told UNITElive. “We’ve already found that trusts which have fewer race inequalities deliver better care – so everything we’ve found so far points to a substantial and welcome change in the future.”

Unite executive committee member in the health sector, Jasmine Suraya, chaired the conference and explained why the discussion the conference had was so important.

“We’re making sure that we have the debate here about what’s gone wrong in NHS workplaces in terms of tackling race inequality, and how we can take that forward and make it right,” she said.

“We’re leading this initiative as a trade union to represent our members – we’ve got more than 100,000 members in the health sector, a huge proportion of which are BAEM members, and this number is growing every day,” Suraya added. “And so our central aim is to connect with members and make sure they have a leading voice in the discussion.”



Unite acting national officer for BAEM members Calenzo Jarrett-Thorpe (main picture) explained how the conference would be only the starting point of a much wider effort, through comprehensive rep training programmes, to put equalities at the top of the agenda for NHS workplaces.



“What we want to do is make sure we take the discussion outside of the corridors, and outside of the realm of theory, and take it into our workplaces to make sure that race inequality is a headline issue for all our reps,” he said.


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