The NHS would be allowed to ‘favour’ black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates for jobs where managers feel this will redress historic inequalities, under proposed legislation.
Where there are two candidates of equal merit and one is from a BME background, employers would be able choose to employ the BME candidate if there was an imbalance in the diversity of the workforce, equalities minister Maria Eagle told an NHS Employers’ equality and diversity conference in London last week.
Delegates heard that regulations in the Equality Bill, currently before parliament, would allow managers to take candidates’ backgrounds into account in a positive way in interviews.
Ms Eagle said: ‘It is going to be perfectly acceptable – as long as the person is able to do the job – for you to choose a woman or a black man if there is a need to redress the balance. That is going to be lawful if your organisation chooses to use it.’ She added that the regulations would be voluntary and NHS organisations would not be forced to do this.
A diverse workforce would improve services to NHS patients, said Ms Eagle. ‘A more representative workforce will lead to more positive patient outcomes,’ she said.
She urged organisations to ensure that they were on top of diversity matters before the legislation becomes law in around two or three years’ time.
‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could design out discrimination, instead of expecting individuals to drag through the courts for years,’ she added.
Alastair Henderson, joint director of NHS Employers, said: ‘Employers will have to be transparent in this process.’ The move follows comments made by Clare Chapman, the Department of Health’s director general of workforce, that new leadership metrics would help measure and subsequently improve the diversity of NHS managers themselves.
In an interview with Nursing Times, published last week she said metrics would help make managers more ‘reflective’ of the communities they served.
Related article on nursingtimes.net: Nurses criticise report for lack of focus on BME nursing staff in the NHS