Experience of disabled staff working in the NHS

Different voices, different choices

09 / 7 / 2015 12.57pm

Background to the research

The NHS has a workforce of 1.7 million people, making it the fifth largest employer in the world and the largest in Europe. There are currently 31,322 people who have disclosed and identified themselves as disabled and employed in the NHS, which represents 2.6 per cent of the workforce.

In April 2014 NHS Employers came together with Disability Rights UK to look at the issue of workplace experience of staff with disabilities. 

Disability Rights UK (DRUK) works to create a society where everyone with lived experience of disability or health conditions can participate equally as full citizens and are the leading charity of this kind in the UK. Improving employment opportunities and work place conditions is a key driver for the charity.

DRUK surveyed over 900 NHS staff and undertook 15 detailed interviews with NHS staff members who had completed the survey. 

Key findings:


  • 14 per cent  of responders reported a dual identity – e.g. disability and sexual orientation
  • 25 individuals cited a failure to implement a reasonable adjustment which has led to a loss of productivity and poor health
  • 67 disabled colleagues reported being bullied at work
  • 16 per cent of responders choose not to declare their disability, largely through fear such as declaration might affect their career 
  • 41 per cent  reported that their disability and the barriers put in their way meant their career progression was negatively affected
  • Disability related sick leave features very clearly as an issue. 
  • 9 per cent of all respondents had learning disabilities and 18 per cent mental health issues 
  • 53 per cent of responders reported a good experience at work
  • 84 per cent said they were open about their disability

Read the key themes that came out of the survey by viewing our disability rights UK info graphic

Disability Summit 15 May 2015  

A total of 84 delegates attended a disability summit in Leeds to discuss the above key findings, discuss what needs to be improved, highlight what’s working well and make key recommendations.

What needs to be improved? 

  • better and easier access to tools to support disability practice 
  • use the Equality Delivery System ( EDS2) to share best practice across healthcare 
  • making the most of the Electronic Staff Records (ESR) and the associated data
  • breakdown and disaggregation of the staff survey analysis by disability 
  • promote the importance and value of senior management sponsorship 
  • encourage occupational health risk assessments based on both environment and the individual
  • enhance recruitment agency's understanding of disability
  • foster a better approach that allows a distinction between sick leave and leave related to disability
  • raise greater awareness of the importance of parity of esteem between physical and mental health
  • promote social based access audits.
What’s working well within the NHS? 

  • disability networks supporting estates and procurement processes to adopt good disability practices
  • recent emergence of lived experience networks 
  • use of disability benchmarking and disability standards to drive change
  • adoption of the time to change initiative, to highlight disability issues and the need to have a conversation about disability  
  • implementation of the project choice initiative - a programme which provides young people who have learning disabilities/difficulties or Autism, with the chance to gain work experience 
  • growth of the mindful employer initiative, which supports people with a mental health condition to find or remain in employment  
  • project search gives young people with a learning disability the skills to gain competitive paid employment 
  • health and well-being with a disability dimension introduced within appraisal settings 
  • using Electronic Staff Records (ESR) and data to build the business case.
Key Recommendations

The following key recommendations were then put forward by the delegates:

  1. Address the need to ensure robust baseline staff data relating to disability and non-disclosure.
  2. Review long-term support, in particular, access to work initiatives and specifically with equipment relating to information technology (IT)   
  3. Explore the adaptation of a disability passport or enabling plan which outlines support that each member of staff requires and is easily transferable and recognised by all NHS Employers. 
  4. Link workplace disability with the health well-being agenda and discuss at appraisal.
  5. Support managers to manage sick leave and leave related to disability. 
  6. Celebrate disability and the workplace through awards.
  7. Give due consideration for the development of a disability standard for the NHS.
  8. Invest in resources to address possible unconscious bias in the workplace, to help stimulate debate and better understanding of disability.
  9. Take steps to address parity of esteem between physical and mental health.
  10. Share good practice via the NHS Employers website. 
Supporting Resources 

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