How can diversity drive patient care?

Simon Fanshawe OBE

06 / 8 / 2015 1.30pm

Writer and broadcaster, Simon Fanshawe OBE, tells us why he’s chairing our conference on 23 September - Working Better for Patients: Diversity and Inclusion in the NHS.

"When I was asked to chair this diversity conference I said yes for one main reason. I wanted to see if we could set up a space where people could talk about how diversity drives patient care.

I am so aware that in the NHS, diversity can become the most awful bore. Endless monitoring forms and surveys. Organisations we work with do it the whole time - they collect oceans of data but then don’t have the structures to use it to create change. And, I don’t know about you, but I am fed up with diversity training, awareness, online toolkits and all the other dull apparatus that accompanies the sound of boxes being ticked without any actual change resulting from any of it. 

In my book, there are two important ways to think about diversity. And they both fall under that one important question: how can diversity drive patient care? Because until we answer that question, I really can’t see the point of pursuing diversity in a health organisation like the NHS.

There are always reasons of social justice and fairness. And that’s the first of the two reasons. We know that there are blocks to talent experienced by certain groups of people. There is a gender pay gap, there are very few black and minority ethnic (BME) people at the top of UK companies and organisations, and are there any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) chief executives? 

So, we know that there is persistent bias, and if we don’t deal with it, we are wasting talent by failing to develop it. And we’re just fools for doing that. At the very worst, staff can experience bullying and harassment and that affects their ability to work well, and ultimately that has a really bad effect on patient health. 

For me, it’s all about the patient. Get that right and you get the rest right. Unblocking those barriers to the development of talent is about unleashing a great change in the NHS based on the patient. To aim for the best care for them, you need the best staff working at their best. And focusing on diversity drives that talent explosion.

The second way of thinking about diversity is equally important. And here, I think the work we do is unusual. We focus all the time, not on the value of particular types of individuals, but on the combination of their differences. I am very suspicious of the view that says ‘women are more caring than men’, or’ LGBT people are more emotionally aware’. When people say this to me (and they do) I always think of the things people say when they go on holiday: ‘we went to Turkey, lovely people’. And I always say: 'what, all of them?'. Because I’ve met some perfectly terrible Turks, women, LGBT people…..And some perfectly wonderful ones. It’s not about who you are. It’s about how you are at work. And how those who manage us at work understand the way to combine our talents to the greatest effect. 

We don’t do much alone at work. Pretty much everything we do is done together. And there’s a great deal of research now to support the idea that the more diverse those teams - the more we recognise, value and deploy our differences - the more effective we are.

So, in this conference I am hoping that we can spend our time trying to answer that big question: how can diversity improve patient health? And move beyond the tick boxes to use data to change and not to monitor."

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