A more diverse NHS

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This week is Equality, Diversity and Human Rights week (16-19 May). It’s a time to look at the reality of how diverse our healthcare system actually is and recognise where changes need to be made.

Great leadership is essential to high performance and achieving high performance is about creating inclusion. By inclusion I mean we positively strive to meet the needs of diverse groups; essentially taking action to create the conditions where all staff feel respected and able to reach their full potential. We know this will ultimately result in patients receiving the best quality care irrespective of disability, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief, age, gender reassignment, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.

Looking at where we are now and where we need to be is very important. Just a few years ago, the Snowy White Peaks report highlighted the lack of progress on BAME inclusion in the NHS. While we recently saw the launch of the Top 50 most influential BAME professionals in the public sector which recognised the hard work of individuals from the BME community, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. In some respects the NHS has moved backwards in relation to race equality. This is particularly stark across London’s trusts, shocking within a city that’s so diversity-rich. We know that progress on equality isn’t inevitable; things only move forward with courageous leadership, clarity of vision and purposeful activities which deliver on specific intentions. It’s not a completely negative picture though; for example there are more women on boards than there were 15 years ago. It’s questionable however, whether the necessary culture change has taken place which will support this shift, and to ensure a continued presence for women in these senior positions. Merely counting diverse heads won’t guarantee sustainable progress.

Reports show again and again that people from BME backgrounds won’t get the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Clearly more needs to be done. We have work to do to reverse the most negative diversity trends and accelerate the pace of change around inclusion. As far as race equality is concerned though, the data tells us that the current situation is woefully inadequate. Another area of inequality is shown in research and staff surveys which highlights that people from LGBT backgrounds still do not feel that can be open about who they are at work. This is another situation that must change if staff are to feel valued and accepted for the diversity dividend that they bring.

England is now far too diverse for a one size fits all model of healthcare. There is therefore some urgency for us to consistently and sustainably develop leaders who can articulate the vision for inclusivity, build upon success, embody this inclusive message and inspire and influence others to do the same.

I believe the NHS can do this well and my hope is that together, we will find new, creative and meaningful ways to ensure that health inequalities are reduced and become a thing of the past.  Inclusion is core to the values of the NHS constitution and when we witness dedicated staff making inclusion a reality through their work, we can rightfully take pride in knowing that we are witnessing our NHS at its very best.

I was recently recognised in a list of the top 50 most influential BAME leaders within the public sector. It’s something I’m really proud of as it showcased BAME talent at all levels throughout the sector. This highlighted that we really need to nurture talent from a range of backgrounds to create the inclusive cultures in which diversity is represented at all levels and where everyone can thrive in the workplace.

Inclusion to me is about building better relationships, improving experiences and opening opportunities for everyone regardless of their ethnicity or race. It’s about making sure organisations recognise talented individuals by giving them the chance to excel and in turn help organisations develop.

Irrespective of where we have been in the past, we can contribute towards creating these future possibilities. We must now endeavour to quicken the pace of change by developing the inclusive, creative expertise in leadership which will meet future challenges and improve patient care.

In the main, the will for change is there; but leaders haven’t been equipped to understand how to make a difference. The Leadership Academy is working to empower leadership at all levels to take action now to create a legacy of inclusion within the NHS. There are choices right now to make a substantive and sustainable difference, but it’s going to take courageous leadership and some difficult conversations.