Exclusive: Concern over race bias on nurse leadership course
Just 4% of recruits to a nursing leadership course set up at the request of the prime minister are from a non-white background, Nursing Times has learnt.
Last year David Cameron announced £46m to help 10,000 nurses and midwives develop their leadership skills in a bid to address care quality concerns. About 1,200 nurses and midwives will go through a bespoke course designed by the NHS Leadership Academy, while thousands of others will go through the academy’s existing courses.
However, academy data shows 94% of the first 315 recruits to the bespoke course were white with a British or Irish background. A further 2% were white but from other backgrounds.
Of the 4% from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, just over 2% were black, around 1% were Asian and fewer than 1% were from a mixed background. This is despite Nursing and Midwifery Council data suggesting about 20% of registrants are from a non-white background.
Lynette Phillips, a member of the chief nursing officer’s BME forum, told Nursing Times she was “disappointed” but not surprised by the figures. She said it was “very important” because nurses and midwives who had been through these programmes would have an advantage when applying for leadership positions.
“If BME nurses do not get onto these programmes then the likelihood of changing the status quo and making leadership at all levels more diverse is less,” she said.
Places are allocated through the academy’s 10 regional delivery partners that work with local providers to nominate staff for the courses. Carol Baxter, head of equality, diversity and human rights at NHS Employers, said it was “absolutely clear that bias, unconscious or otherwise” still occurs in the NHS.
Unconscious bias is a phenomenon identified by psychologists where individuals tend to favour people who look more like them.
For example, a study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies last year looked at the prospects of more than 1,000 newly qualified nurses from eight London universities. It found the odds of receiving an offer of employment by the time of qualification were lower for all the minority ethnic groups studied than for white British nurses.
Professor Baxter added: “The NHS must have zero tolerance for discrimination when tackling these problems.”
The academy, which shared the data with Nursing Times on request, acknowledged there had been a “hiccup” with the first recruits to the course.
The organisation was created as part of the government’s NHS reforms and took over responsibility for a number of existing leadership courses when it formally started work in April.
Yvonne Coghill, the academy’s senior programme lead for inclusion, told Nursing Times she had been working hard to raise awareness of training opportunities and was confident future cohorts would be more representative.
“Bearing in mind we only started in April we are really getting our act together. There was a hiccup in BME recruits… It’s across the board that there’s this issue. This is an NHS issue,” she said.
Dave Ashton, head of practice at the academy, told Nursing Times under-representation on the new nursing and midwifery programme was, in part, due to the time pressure of getting the first cohorts onto the course as soon as possible following the prime minister’s announcement last October.
He said he was personally “determined” to address issues of under-representation and said established courses were far more
representative: 22% of recruits to the Edward Jenner course were from a non-white background, as were 20% on the Elizabeth Garratt Anderson programme and 26% on the Mary Seacole course.
Dr Ashton said ensuring staff from diverse backgrounds were put forward for courses was part of the academy’s service level agreements with local delivery partners.
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