Equality, diversity and inclusion are no luxury for the NHS

Julian Hartley profile picture

28 October 2023

Julian Hartley
Chief Executive

The NHS found itself under increased scrutiny last week, with calls to cut spending on equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) roles. Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay has called NHS managers to spend money on frontline services instead.

The implications of such a move are vast, and it is crucial to understand why a focus on EDI is indispensable in the NHS, and why NHS leaders would want to ensure dedicated resource to foster inclusive values. Trust leaders are deeply committed to ensuring the health service remains a pillar of fairness, inclusion, and, above all, high-quality care for all. They share the conviction that EDI is not just an aspect of NHS expenditure; it is a life-saving investment that benefits both staff and patients.

As a former trust leader, I've seen first-hand the value of EDI in supporting open and compassionate cultures. The government-commissioned Messenger review, published last year, also underscored the importance of EDI and recommended embedding this responsibility for leaders and managers at all levels of the health service to ensure discrimination and inequality are tackled. The review serves as a stark reminder of why we must protect and foster EDI within the NHS, rather than dismantle it.

It's not about being politically correct; it's about delivering better care.

Julian Hartley    Chief Executive

Firstly, EDI roles are essential for ensuring that the NHS workforce reflects the diverse patient population it serves. The NHS is a microcosm of society, with patients and staff coming from a range of ethnic backgrounds, ages, abilities, gender identities and sexual orientations. EDI roles are the compass guiding us toward a healthcare system that responds to this diversity. It's not about being politically correct; it's about delivering better care.

There is a wealth of evidence to support this. Studies have repeatedly shown that patients receive better care and outcomes when their healthcare providers understand their cultural backgrounds, personal beliefs, and unique needs. A diverse and inclusive NHS enhances trust between patients and healthcare professionals, resulting in higher patient satisfaction and better medical advice.

EDI roles also play a pivotal role in addressing health disparities, like the fact that black men were over three times more likely to die than their white counterparts in the early stages of the pandemic. By having dedicated EDI roles within the NHS, we can identify and address these disparities, ensuring that healthcare is equitable for all.

Moreover, a diverse workforce fosters creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, which are all critical in a healthcare setting and could help make the NHS the best health service in the world. Inclusive organisations also experience reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, which leads to cost savings and a more stable workforce. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more motivated, leading to better patient care and overall satisfaction. They are also more likely to raise concerns over safety and quality of care.

Cutting spending on EDI roles would send a disheartening message that diversity and inclusion are not a priority in our healthcare system.

Julian Hartley    Chief Executive

It's important to note that EDI roles extend beyond the realms of race and ethnicity. They also address age and gender imbalances, disability, and other underrepresented groups. By recognising the diverse needs and aspirations of all individuals, EDI roles help unlock the full potential of the NHS workforce.

Cutting spending on EDI roles would send a disheartening message that diversity and inclusion are not a priority in our healthcare system. It would also hinder the NHS' ability to combat discrimination and inequality effectively. In a world where healthcare should be accessible and compassionate for everyone, this is a path we cannot afford to tread.

Ultimately, EDI roles are not a wasteful expenditure in the NHS; they are a strategic investment that pays dividends in the form of better patient care, a more inclusive work environment that supports retention of valued staff, and the eradication of health disparities. The Messenger review confirmed the critical role of EDI in the NHS and recommended their integration into all levels of the health service. This is not just a moral imperative; it is a prescription for a healthier future for the NHS and the people it serves.

This opinion piece was first published by The New Statesman

About the author

Julian Hartley profile picture

Julian Hartley
Chief Executive

Sir Julian Hartley joined as chief executive in February 2023, having been chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals since 2013, where he led a major programme of culture change and staff engagement to deliver improved quality, operational and financial performance.

Julian’s career in the NHS began as a general management trainee and he worked in a number of posts before progressing to a board director appointment at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust.

In 2019 Julian was asked to be the executive lead for the interim NHS People Plan, having previously worked as managing director of NHS Improving Quality, and in 2022 he was awarded Knight Bachelor for services to healthcare in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Read more

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