Published On: 24 February 2023Tags: ,

The latest NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) figures were released this week. We welcome transparency and there are some signs of improvement but far more still needs to change. 

The numbers of BME NHS staff have increased, however in the clinical workforce, many BME employees are ‘stuck’ in mid-level positions and do not progress to senior positions. Is the right system in place to allow progression and an equitable inclusion process? 

In the majority of NHS Trusts, White applicants are more likely than BME counterparts to be appointed – it’s clear different staff development and recruitment approaches need to be actioned to ensure effective change.

BME staff are still more likely than White staff to enter a formal disciplinary process; and a higher percentage of BME staff than White staff experienced discrimination from other members of staff. Women, specifically Asian, mixed race, Gypsy and Traveller staff, are more likely to suffer abuse from the public. Zero tolerance of harassment and abuse should mean zero tolerance.

Ironically, also this week, Michelle Cox won an employment tribunal case against NHS England on the grounds of race discrimination and whistleblowing detriment. Not only are NHS employees denied opportunities, they are also obstructed from speaking out. And there are far too many cases like this. It causes immense injury to the individual, but also to colleagues and to patient outcomes.

In this particular case, all of Michelle Cox’s claims of direct race discrimination, race harassment and whistleblower victimisation were unanimously upheld by the Tribunal. 

Michelle Cox is unlikely to work again as a nurse, yet the main management witness in this case has since been promoted as has the original investigator and the HR adviser. This case illustrates a much wider problem amongst key decision makers inside and outside the NHS: a refusal to name racism; a determination to avoid concluding that a manager’s actions were acts of race discrimination; the deliberate setting of a high bar of proof which is unnecessary; the inability of some HR staff to know the law and take appropriate action.

This case should lead to an acknowledgement across the NHS that this is not an isolated case, alongside an acceptance of responsibility, and decisive action at pace across the NHS.

Now is the time to adopt best practice evidence of what works for better equality – be actively anti-racist; create a safe climate for staff to raise concerns about unfair treatment and act on those complaints in a timely and decisive manner; take decisive action against staff who do discriminate; recruit by ‘values’ and a diverse longlist; develop a talent pipeline; and actually listen with intent and act upon what BME staff are saying about their experience of working in the NHS.

We need more action and fewer words.