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Will the next Chief Nursing Officer be a black and minority ethnic woman?

Jabeer Butt (@ButtJabeer) is the acting Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation.

Nursing continues to be an occupation of choice for black and minority ethnic people, particularly for women.  Around 21 per cent of nurses currently working in the NHS are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.  We do not know what the impact will be of the recent change that has seen the end of bursaries for training to be a nurse, but there is little evidence to suggest that black and minority ethnic people are not joining the profession.

This is inspite of continuing evidence that black and minority ethnic nurses do not progress in the NHS in the same way as their White counterparts, with significant under-representation in the most senior grades.  Echoing past studies, some data suggests that black and minority ethnic female nurses progress less well than their male counterparts too.  Worryingly, it is difficult to see any evidence that the comparatively poorer rates of pay received by black and minority ethnic nurses identified in the Noughties has been addressed.  This picture is further compounded by black and minority ethnic nurses being at greater risk of having disciplinary action taken against them and more likely to be referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Nevertheless, black and minority ethnic nurses are ever present in the NHS, and are repeatedly acknowledged by all as being key to its ability to deliver high quality services.  Therefore the recent announcement that the current Chief Nursing Officer is due to step down, does beg the question will the next person to hold this position be a black and minority ethnic woman?  Looking at the history of appointments to the position of chief nursing officer, as well as the present make-up of the NHS leadership, you would probably conclude no!  Whilst the bonds of history do need to be broken to achieve real change, we must acknowledge, as has the present Chief Nursing Officer, that there has been a lack of progress to date.

The adoption of the Workforce Race Equality Standard by the NHS was clearly a major step forward.  The limitations of its implementation with no attempt to understand the experience of black and minority ethnic women as opposed to men is a disappointment.  Nevertheless, the establishment of metrics that allows comparison between NHS Trusts, as well as change over time are important steps forward.  But as is repeatedly highlighted, black and minority ethnic people continue to be under- represented in senior management in the NHS, including in NHS England.  It is not that the NHS does not recruit, it is that it does not appear capable of opening the opportunities of senior management to all.

Clearly, we need to be careful.  The last thing anyone would want is to see a black and minority ethnic person appointed as Chief Nurse and then for everyone to conclude that it was the colour of their skin that was key.  For those promoting race equality, we have also had to experience some achieving senior positions and then quickly forgetting how they got there.  But, in 2018 it is right that we publicly aspire to ensuring that the appointment of the next Chief Nursing Officer better reflects the significant contribution of the black and minority ethnic nurses.  It is also right that we expect those who will manage the recruitment to think about how selection will ensure an equal chance for all.  It is also right that we all encourage appropriately qualified black and minority ethnic nurses to apply.

It has taken British nursing some time to recognise the contribution of Mary Seacole, we can only hope that it does not take as long before we see a black and minority ethnic woman appointed Chief Nursing Officer.