The road to race equality in the NHS: 10 steps to crafting an effective action plan

Olivia King profile picture

27 September 2023

Olivia King
Deputy Director for the Workforce Race Equality Standard
NHS England

As we look around the hallways and wards of our NHS facilities, the diversity is palpable. From clinicians and nurses to administrators and support staff, the NHS is a microcosm of the multicultural tapestry that is the UK. Yet, despite this outward appearance of diversity, race equality remains a pressing concern. For our leaders, understanding this challenge and crafting effective strategies to address it is paramount.

Why race equality matters now more than ever

Our NHS is fuelled by talent from around the globe. Yet, it's no secret that ethnic minority staff often face unique challenges. From career progression disparities to experiences of discrimination, the hurdles are real. However, these are not just issues of fairness and justice. Evidence suggests that when our staff feel valued and treated fairly, patient care improves. It's a win-win. But how do we get there?

The heart of an effective race equality action plan

  1. Data-driven insights: It has been said, "What gets measured gets improved." Start by gathering data. How diverse are our teams? What are the experiences of ethnic minority staff? Regular surveys, exit interviews, audits of disciplinaries and other feedback mechanisms can provide a goldmine of information. Remember, this is not about pointing fingers but understanding where we are to chart a course forward.

  2. Clear, measurable objectives: The plan should clearly articulate what it aims to achieve. These objectives should be measurable, allowing progress to be tracked over time. Objectives might include specific targets related to representation, retention, progression, or pay equity.

  3. Comprehensive strategies: The plan should include a range of strategies to address multiple aspects of racial inequality, including unconscious bias, discrimination, lack of representation, and lack of opportunities for career progression.

  4. Involvement of diverse voices: The plan should be developed with input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including employees from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This can help ensure that the plan is responsive to the actual experiences and needs of employees.

  5. Leadership commitment: It starts at the top. Leadership teams should reflect the diversity we aspire to. Consider mentorship and sponsorship programmes, targeted leadership training, and succession planning that focuses on ethnic minority staff. When leaders embody a commitment to race equality, it sends a powerful message.

  6. Inclusive recruitment: Are recruitment practices attracting a diverse pool of talent? It's worth reviewing job descriptions, outreach strategies, and interview panels. Also, unconscious bias and up-to-date recruitment training for those involved in recruitment can make a significant difference.

  7. Staff development and progression: Every member of our NHS family should feel they have the opportunity to grow and advance. This might mean more accessible training, transparent promotion criteria, or mentorship opportunities. Ensure that race is not an obstacle to career progression.

  8. Challenging discrimination: The message should be loud and clear. Discrimination, in any form, has no place in the NHS. This is not only about policies but creating a culture where everyone feels safe, valued and empowered to speak out for their health, safety and for the wellbeing of service users.

  9. Transparent communication: Organisations should communicate transparently about the plan, including its objectives, strategies, progress, and any challenges encountered. This helps build trust and demonstrates the organisation's commitment to racial equality.

  10. Collaboration is key: Improving does not have to done alone. Partner with organisations, community groups, and experts who can offer insights, strategies, and training. Leverage the wider community's expertise.


Bringing it all together

Race equality is not a tick box exercise. It is a journey towards creating a more inclusive, fair, and effective NHS.

To ensure we retain the talents we have and continue to attract more people to join our workforce, that is why NHS England has published the first ever equality, diversity and inclusion plan for the NHS. The six high impact actions aim to ensure our staff work in an environment where they feel they belong, can safely raise concerns and provide the best possible care to our patients. Great patient care starts with caring for our staff.

Leadership is pivotal. It is about making tough decisions, listening to sometimes uncomfortable feedback, and constantly reviewing the approach.

In conclusion, let us remember why we are doing this. It is for the talented nurse from Nepal who brings a unique perspective to patient care. It is for the British Nigerian doctor who is breaking generational barriers to serve in our wards. It is for every ethnic minority staff member who plays a part in the NHS story. But more than that, it is for every patient who benefits from a professional, valued, and diverse team of caregivers.

Together, let us make our NHS not just a beacon of healthcare excellence but also of race equality. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards, both for our staff and the patients we serve, are well worth it. Let us embrace the challenge and craft the future we all aspire to.

About the author

Olivia King profile picture

Olivia King
Deputy Director for the Workforce Race Equality Standard

Olivia King is the deputy director for the Workforce Race Equality Standard in NHS England. She is a legal and business ethics scholar, and strategist with multi-sector experience in commodities, education, finance and healthcare.

Olivia has worked in strategy and human rights for over 10 years and advocates for reducing avoidable health inequalities and embedding evidence-based inclusive processes in organisational structures, policies and processes.

As a previous board member of the National Association for Patient Participation, Olivia supports boards with strategy, governance and culture transformation programmes. She is a graduate of the NHS Leadership Academy Nye Bevan Programme.

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