The push to improve staff diversity at the highest level of the health service is being “turbo charged” under a freshly approved strategy.
It will require NHS organisations to set their own target for representation of people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds across its leadership team and broader workforce.
The plan has been jointly developed by NHS England and NHS Improvement as part of the Workforce Race Equality Standard programme (WRES), which was introduced in 2015 in order to drive improvements in this area.
Employers will be provided with “accelerated, intensive” support to increase their recruitment of BME people at senior levels and to grow the talent of BME staff already within their workforce.
Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, said: “Organisations across the NHS have been working hard to improve their workforce race equality.
“However, we must turbo-charge this now so that we can make the fundamental change that is needed in culture and leadership across the NHS.
“The service’s staff should look at their leaders and see them represented, and our patients deserve the same.
“We will do everything possible to support the NHS organisations build a diverse and representative workforce from top to bottom.”
The latest WRES report, which assessed trusts on their workforce diversity against a series of indicators, showed improvements were being made but that there was still more work to be done.
It found the number of very senior managers from BME backgrounds increased by 18% from 2016 to 2017 – from 212 to 250 in England.
This equated to 7% of all very senior manager posts being occupied by a BME person – much lower than the BME representation in the overall NHS workforce (18%) and in the population served (12%).
The number of trusts with three or more BME board member increased by nine to 25.
In 2017, BME staff were 1.37 times more likely to enter the formal disciplinary process in comparison to white staff – a slight improvement from 1.56 in 2016.
Yvonne Coghill, director of WRES Implementation at NHS England, said: “Making our leadership and wider workforce representative of the rest of the population is good for our staff and good for our patients.
“The important work that we have been doing on the WRES is beginning to make the necessary changes to ensure BME staff receive the same opportunities as their white colleagues in the NHS.
“This new strategy further builds on that work, to build an inclusive and diverse leadership, using all available talents, to foster an engaged, motivated and enthusiastic workforce delivering high quality and safe patient care”.
The full “NHS workforce equality strategy” will be published in January 2019.