Diversity in the NHS is all about recognising and valuing difference.
I feel strongly that a diverse workforce inspires cultural awareness and cohesion in society. But while black and minority ethnic (BME) groups make up nearly 30% of the workforce of the NHS, unfortunately, BME staff are under-represented in senior professional nursing positions.
In fact, the proportion of BME board-level members has dropped in the last decade – from 9.6% in 2006 to only 8% last year (West et al, 2015).
For racism to be tackled, leadership roles in society and the NHS have to be open to BMEs. It is not only a legal argument for equality, but also a moral argument for equality.
This point was highlighted by Roger Klein’s Snowy White Peaks report in 2014, which considered the impact of staff and trust board diversity on the effectiveness of healthcare provision and patient experience. Klein argued that a “diverse workforce will help organisations to understand the local community and aid the delivery of outstanding patient care”.
Nurses lead and take actions when they see compassionate care being compromised. Nurse leaders engage with patients to deliver successful partnerships. And fair recruitment, professional development and reward for employees must have an effect on outcomes. To manage recruitment and retention of nursing staff, we need connected and credible leadership. The barriers need to be removed from the BME nursing workforce, who would then be motivated to apply for leadership posts.
Inclusion, equality and diversity are crucial elements of what the NHS stands for. The NHS Race Equality Standard sets indicators for trusts to monitor workforce data and track the progress they are making in the recruitment of BME staff. The universal nature of NHS access points towards the importance of its leadership representing the populations and minority groups that it serves.
The emphasis of the NHS leadership model is on the wellbeing of staff and teams, and the delivery of high-quality, compassionate care, resulting in satisfied customers. Organisations should therefore aim to identify nurse leadership behaviours that result in effective change implementation, which includes building capacity for sustainable change.
The leadership should work to improve work conditions for BMEs, including disabled people.
By including BMEs in a diverse-employment strategy, together with leadership investment, future nurse leaders can be identified. Talent management then opens up new opportunities for nurses by providing an equal platform for every nurse to improve their performance.
A desire to improve health and wellbeing underpins both working culture and leadership styles within the NHS. The Shape of Caring review by Lord Willis sets out to transform higher education of nursing by strengthening and developing partnerships for nursing leadership, research and higher education, in view of providing quality-assurance processes for the safety of patients.
Foundation trusts were introduced in the English NHS with the expectation that they should be more productive, introduce greater innovation and variety, as well as obtaining greater job satisfaction. This requires employers to commit to investing time and resources to allow this to happen.
A key message to nurses is to promote teamwork and inclusion, and to reinforce the need to achieve a more streamlined and aligned workforce capable of delivering excellent services for fairer communities.
Hille Halonen is health visitor, Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust. Mary Seacole Scholar 2015