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NHS leaders considering setting targets for BME staff promotion to 'accelerate change'

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NHS England is to look at the possibility of introducing recruitment targets for black and minority ethnic staff, the organisation’s chief executive has said.

At an NHS workforce event in London for improving race equality yesterday, Simon Stevens said that “we probably need to start measuring” progress against specific goals, as part of new rules brought in three years ago to ensure fair treatment of BME staff.

“Should we… now start setting explicit targets for recruitment against WRES measures?”

Simon Stevens

The workforce race equality standard (WRES) rules, introduced in 2014, require all NHS organisations and providers of NHS care to report data comparing the experiences of BME staff with white staff.

Organisations must report on nine different areas, including the proportion of BME staff in senior positions, as well as the likelihood of them entering into a disciplinary process compared with white colleagues.

NHS employers are also expected to show how race equality has improved in each of the areas, but they are not set specific targets.

This year’s WRES report revealed that, while there had been some progress between 2015 and 2016 in the number of BME nurses reaching more senior positions, they still remained “seriously under-represented” in the higher banded roles.

At Tuesday’s WRES annual conference, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens described some trusts’ WRES data as “particularly disappointing”. “There are some real debates we’ve got to have and come to some conclusions,” he said.

He indicated that the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, of which he is a co-chair, had discussed the issue of race equality targets on Monday.

“That was part of the debate we had yesterday afternoon – should we, for example, now start setting explicit targets for recruitment against WRES measures?” he added.

“Should we start doing that? Recognising people start in different places across the country, but nevertheless the pace and change has got to accelerate,” he said.

“Even if it’s kind of indicative goals, I think that we measure so many other things in the health service, we probably need to start measuring that [too],” said Mr Stevens.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

He was later asked by a trust deputy chief executive why the health service had been reluctant so far to introduce targets on race equality.

Mr Stevens said it was important to trusts for mobilise staff in their own organisations to make them want to ensure equal opportunities for BME staff, rather than just instructing them to make changes.

However, he added: “Does that mean we shouldn’t also be intentional and set some goals and track our progress against them? I wouldn’t have raised the question, if I didn’t think we were coming to the point where we should.”

Meanwhile, he also revealed that he wanted to see responses to the annual NHS staff survey in the future broken down by race for each question.

“I’ve been asked whether we would fund the cost of the additional analysis and I’m more than happy for us to do so,” he told the audience.

When asked by a nurse at the event what improvements the profession could expect to see in the future, Mr Stevens acknowledged that more nurses were needed to help ease the “huge” pressure existing staff were under.

He said the government’s pledge to fund 25% extra clinical placements for student nurses next year would make a difference in the long term, but acknowledged that was “not instant magic, it’s not going to help us out this winter”.

New routes into nursing through apprenticeships would also help, by providing career progression for existing care staff unable to take time off work to study at university, he added.

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