Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Report shows BME nurses still stuck at bottom of career ladder


Nurses from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds remain “grossly unrepresented” at the top level of the NHS, latest national data has revealed.

The Workplace Racial Equality Standard (WRES) report for 2018 showed nurses from BME backgrounds continued to face greater difficulty in climbing up the career ladder, compared to their white counterparts.

“Minority voices remain grossly underrepresented in senior management positions”

Dame Donna Kinnair 

While 21.3% of all nurses and health visitors in the NHS in England last year were from an ethnic minority background, just 3.4% of directors of nursing were BME.

At bands 8d and 9 – the highest two bands in the Agenda for Change pay scale – there were two more BME nurses, health visitors and midwives compared to 2017, and 61 more who were white.

The number of BME nurses, health visitors and midwives sitting at entry band 5 increased by 1,585 over the year, yet there was a 5,203 drop in their white colleagues. Out of the 72,183 BME nurses, health visitors and midwives in the workforce in 2018, 98% were in bands 5-7.

Overall, the number of nursing staff in England’s NHS increased by 6% from 2017 and 12% from 2013. This trend was reflected in other staff groups, with the number of BME people within the workforce rising year-on-year.

However, the WRES report painted a worrying picture about the experiences of BME staff within NHS trusts.

“Improving the experience of staff is good for them and leads to better outcomes for our patients”

Yvonne Coghill

The percentage of ethnic minority staff who reported suffering discrimination in the last 12 months went up from 13.8% in 2016 to 15.0% in 2017 – the latest data available through the NHS staff survey. In contrast, 6.6% of white staff reported the experience of discrimination at work in 2017.

Likewise, the percentage of BME workers who believed their trust provided equal opportunities for career progression, or promotion, fell from 75.5% in 2016 to 71.5% in 2017. The report stated that 86.6% of white staff held that belief in 2017.

However, the data showed year-on-year improvements in equality in the disciplinary process. The likelihood of BME workers entering the disciplinary process compared to white peers reduced from 1.56 in 2016, to 1.37 in 2017, and to 1.24 in 2018.

In addition, the likelihood of white staff being appointed from shortlisting compared to BME colleagues fell from 1.60 in 2017, to 1.45 in 2018.

However, white applicants were still more likely to get the job from a shortlist in a massive 91.7% of trusts last year.

“NHS leaders and trusts in London must once and for all demonstrate that they take the issue of race equality seriously”

Jude Diggins

There were 11 more executive BME board members across NHS trusts in 2018, compared to 2017.

However, BME people held just 7.4% of seats on boards last year – significantly lower than their 19.1% representation of the entire NHS workforce.

Reacting to the figures, Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The rise in reported discrimination towards BME staff in the NHS in England is truly appalling, and shows just how far we have yet to go.

“It is a disgrace that black and minority ethnic staff experience racism, lower pay, harassment and limited career progression within our health service,” she said.

Dame Donna said it was up to employers and policymakers, working with trade unions and other organisations, to put an end to racial inequality in the NHS for good.

Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Donna Kinnair

“A good start would be ensuring there are more BME voices at the top of the profession, yet despite modest gains highlighted since last year, minority voices remain grossly underrepresented in senior management positions,” she added.

Dame Donna said the RCN was willing to work with NHS employers to help them engage their staff in the process of resolving issues of “discrimination and systemic racism in their workplaces”.

She added that the government had no hope of tackling workforce shortages without the NHS embracing diversity at every level.

At the end of last year, London become the only region in England to have more BME nurses working in its NHS services than white.

However, the latest WRES report showed London was the worst performing region in the country for its racial equality.

For example, 30.4% of BME staff in the city reported to have experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, relatives or public in last 12 months – the highest level in England.

Jude Diggins, regional director of RCN London, said the results were “hugely disappointing” and “questions the commitment to addressing these long known discriminatory practices”.

Royal College of Nursing London

Jude Diggins

Jude Diggins

She added: “NHS leaders and trusts in London must once and for all demonstrate that they take the issue of race equality seriously. That means engaging properly with [BME] staff and examining the cultures and processes that discriminate against them.” 

The WRES programme was introduced in 2015 and, through annual reports, reviews the treatment of BME staff in England’s NHS, as measured across nine key metrics, including representation, experience of discrimination and access to senior roles.

The initiative was initially due to last only two years but today NHS leaders have announced plans to expand the initiative. They have committed to funding the programme for the next seven years, supported by £1m of annual funding until at least 2025, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

In the long-term plan, NHS leaders have also pledged that “respect, equality and diversity” will be at the heart of a separate “workforce implementation plan” for the health service in England, which is set to be published later this year.

To support the drive, NHS England has appointed a team of 42 experts from within the existing workforce, who will work with senior staff to close the gaps between BME and white staff. They will join a network of more than 80 WRES expert ambassadors who are already championing the programme.



Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill, a nurse by background and director of WRES implementation at NHS England, said: “Improving the experience of staff is good for them and leads to better outcomes for our patients.

“As well as making the health service fit for the future of patient care, the NHS long-term plan commits to doing more for our staff by shining a light on areas where they aren’t always treated fairly,” she said.

“Investing in the WRES into the middle of the next decade, will help us make the changes in the NHS that our staff and patients need and deserve,” said Ms Coghill. 

Dr Habib Naqvi, WRES policy lead at NHS England, welcomed the improvements shown in the latest WRES report but said it was a “reminder of the challenges we still face”.


Readers' comments (2)

  • The problem lies in the attitude of the nurses and the profession. I have been a nurse since 1998 and I am brown coloured. I was appointed as Band 7 last year. When I joined the post, I was looked down by the a lot of senior nurses, not only the white but also by black nurses. No matter how much efforts I made to engage with them, they always were very cold with me. My greetings to them were ignored and their behaviour towards me made me feel very uncomfortable. When I talked to them, the look over my shoulder but not at me, do not reply to my e-mails, do not even remember my name and call me "thingy." While I was working on the computer they will come in the vicinity and talk loudly and made it very disruptive. I was once said by one of the senior nurse whom I approached to have more information about a task that she was doing previously that was then given to me. I asked her for some information, she told me though nicely that all I have to do is to copy her report as she thinks her work is excellent and that I 'do not need to reinvent the wheel.' I did not get support in the job and I felt very stressed and uncomfortable to the core of mind and body. Finally, I left and I am now jobless. I have lived many bad experiences in nursing with brutality and bullying. I am afraid to go back and work on the floor. I have studied at lot at my own expenses and still in debt from my last 2 courses which I did last year and paid with my credit card. It does not mean anything, as the work environment demands support for the person to be able to apply their knowledge which has been missing for me. My willingness was there but, this is not enough and mistakes was not allowed for me. I can only speak for myself, nursing had made a failure in my life on many levels and my family life has suffered with it. Now I will start to live in poverty as I am not willing to go back to floor nursing to be bullied.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I wonder to whom does equality and diversity refer do not think BME, are a part of the equation..

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs