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Let’s celebrate work to improve NHS career equality while acknowledging the task ahead

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Trying to celebrate the diversity of staff in the NHS and improve their representation at senior levels is an ongoing struggle, but one that has at least been gaining more attention in recent years.

For example, a report published in January noted that nurses from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds remain “grossly unrepresented” at the top level of the NHS.

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

While 21.3% of all nurses and health visitors in the NHS in England last year were from a BAME background, just 3.4% of directors of nursing were. Put another way, there are 309,000 full-time equivalent and midwifery posts in the NHS but only 10 BAME executive directors of nursing are from a BAME background.

”These directors were an impressive group of role models and hopefully an inspiration to others”

Seven of those nursing directors were recently on stage at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit, where they formed a powerful final panel session.

These directors were an impressive group of role models and hopefully an inspiration to others. And from listening to their session and watching the reaction in the room and on social media, they really do inspire others.

They gave honest and personal accounts highlighting the workforce and race equality challenges BAME nursing and midwifery staff continue to experience.

Among them was Joyce Fletcher from Black Country Partnership Foundation Trust.

She highlighted a Nursing Times article from 2004 in which she said that she wanted to be a nursing director inside the next two years but this had not happened until 2016 when she was given an interim post.

The CNO herself, Dr Ruth May, had earlier used part of her speech at the event to pledge her “firm commitment” to stamping out race inequalities in the profession. She told delegates that the underrepresentation of BAME nurses in top jobs was “unacceptable”.

You may be wondering why I am talking about something that happened last month. Well, in September, we will be holding our second Nursing Times Workforce Awards. For those of you wanting to enter or complete a half-finished entry, you have until midnight on 18 April to do so.

The 14 award categories include two that focus on diversity. Our Diversity and Inclusion Champion of the Year and Best Diversity and Inclusion Practice both celebrate work addressing racial inequalities and changing NHS culture.

The first award will recognise an individual who actively champions the recruitment and support of employees from minority ethnic backgrounds or supports diversity in age, gender or sexual orientation, ensuring equal access to opportunities and progression. The second will highlight an organisation that has made a significant improvement and continued commitment to the diversity of its workforce.

So why do I mention these awards? It’s not simply a plug for entries, although I naturally I do want to encourage those of you who are trying to level the playing field. But my main reason for highlighting them is that we have had a disappointingly low number of entries for the two categories, and especially for the diversity champion.

”I know there are many nursing champions from BAME backgrounds out there”

Is this symptomatic of the wider problem that the WRES and other initiatives are trying to fix? Perhaps. Given all the recent talk of trying to better represent the diversity of the NHS workforce and overcome other challenges like lack of promotion, I had hoped for lots of entries in both categories.

I know there are many nursing champions from BAME backgrounds out there, because I regularly meet them at events and routinely communicate with them about a whole host of subjects.

So, my plea to you is, please take up this opportunity to recognise an individual who has made a significant improvement and continued commitment to championing diversity in the health and care workforce.

An award may not have the same impact as national policy initiatives like the WRES, but it is one way Nursing Times can support the agenda along beyond reporting on it and ensuring it does not fall off the radar. And it’s also celebrating what is being achieved rather than pointing out how far we have to go.

I welcome entries from candidates themselves or nominations from those who wish to highlight an individual who they believe merits this recognition. And please don’t delay, get those entries and nominations in.

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