Profile picture of Delia Mills/ Beverleigh Senior/ Paul Attwal

Delia Mills/ Beverleigh Senior/ Paul Attwal

executive assistant to the chief operating officer, director of operations for acute patient access, women's health and clinical support services, head of performance
Whittington Health NHS Trust

In 2018, Whittington Health NHS Trust began a six-month independent workplace review conducted by Professor Duncan Lewis, Professor Emeritus at Plymouth University. In an organisation where 46% of the staff are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background, the review, found evidence of discrimination behind bullying and harassment, as well as discriminatory practices. The review identified a number of recommendations which included the need for the trust to place equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of their values as an organisation.

In 2020, a series of events took place both here and abroad which put questions around race, diversity and inclusion firmly on the policy agenda. Early in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. A pandemic that laid bare the sheer scale of healthcare inequalities in the UK, and the impact these inequalities have on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The unlawful killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement protests throughout the summer of 2020 added further impetus to Whittington Health’s determination to expand their work in this area.

Three individuals from Whittington Health– Paul Attwal, head of performance, Delia Mills, executive assistant to the chief operating officer and chair of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff network and Beverleigh Senior, director of operations for acute patient access, women's health and clinical support services - decided to create an initiative that could drive real change in the organisation's culture, and the visibility of race equality issues throughout their workplace.

'Nothing changes if nothing changes'

On 29 October 2020 at the closing event of a very successful month celebrating Black History, Whittington Health launched the See ME First trust initiative. The initiative takes the form of a six-colour badge, which although not an exact science, aims to represents the differing levels of melanin in skin tones. The badge reflects the famous ideology at the heart of the Dr Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech: "that people should not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character" (August 1963).

See ME First is not simply a badge though. Any member of staff who wishes to wear the badge is encouraged to make a personalised pledge (and have a photo taken) to uphold the values that the badge symbolises. These pledges prove that everyone who wears the badge is part of an "open, non-judgemental and inclusive NHS organisation" and has an understanding of what wearing the badge means. Pledges vary from one porter's commitment to "respect all people regardless of race" to a school nurse's vow to "facilitate a better understanding of the need for equal rights".

Moreover, these pledges also confer a form of accountability. As Beverleigh explains, "When I see someone wearing the badge, I want them to be visibly exhibiting the values it represents". Paul explains those who wear the badge are, "no longer bystanders but upstanders". It sends a message that badge wearers can talk about the issues that affect Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals and communities, and will call out behaviour that does not reach the standards of Whittington Health's inclusive community. All of the organisation's executive team have made their See ME First pledge, and wear their badges, demonstrating commitment from the senior leaders of the organisation.

'We all have a part to play, equality affects everyone'

See ME First has already had a huge impact on Whittington Health's culture. Despite launching the initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic, Delia states it has given their staff "a voice" and started "two-way conversations" about race and equality throughout their workforce. Beverleigh adds "This badge demonstrates that I belong to an organisation whose values, value me".

Over 1200 people have now made their pledge and wear their badge. For Whittington Health, however, the journey for this initiative has only just begun. They wish to continue to emphasise that the badge is for everyone, not just the 46% of their staff within the organisation who come from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background. "There's strength in numbers," Delia explains, "1000 plus voices will continue to grow and need to be listened to in order to make positive changes in the trust".

The badge has been endorsed by numerous notable individuals. Adam Jogee, Mayor of Haringey and Janet Burgess, former Mayor of Islington have both made their pledges and wear their badges. Former health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, was seen wearing the See ME First badge in the House of Commons. Yvonne Coghill, former Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) national lead, has been instrumental in promoting the initiative and has also made her pledge.

The badge now has a dedicated twitter page, which regularly highlights the individual pledges made by members of their workplace. As an integrated clinical organisation, it is important that all staff have easy access to support this initiative and so pledges can now be made by web form via the trust intranet,

'Cultural change for the country, cultural change for the NHS'

The goal for the initiative is not solely to grow within their own organisation but to rollout within the wider NHS and beyond. The story of an ambulance driver who noticed the badges worn by staff when he was on duty and arrived at the Whittington Health's A&E department was so taken with the initiative that he asked to make a pledge, saying "Seeing staff at the Whittington and all NHS hospitals I visit being bastions of equality by wearing the badge I wish to further this especially amongst my Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues". This shows the grassroots support that has so far accompanied the initiative.

The initiative is reinforced by a toolkit created to support other organisations who may wish to join the campaign. Indeed, North Central London clinical commissioning group launched their own See ME First campaign on 8 July 2021, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust are due to launch in August 2021. Other NHS organisations have also expressed an interest in joining the campaign too. 

The team are in numerous conversations to extend the initiative and one day hope to extend the Whittington Health NHS Trust initiative throughout the wider NHS family.   


For more information and to get involved

Twitter: @seemefirstbadge