Why employ disabled people in the NHS?

Jane hatton

Jane Hatton is the founder of Evenbreak an award-winning social enterprise run by and for disabled people, helping employers attract and retain talented disabled people. Jane is the author of ‘A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People’. She is also a trustee of two disability charities and also appeared as a recruitment expert in BBC2’s Employable Me. In this blog Jane delivers a strong case for employing disabled people.

You don’t need me to tell you that the NHS is facing a number of challenges at the moment. Apart from the obvious issues around funding, many of the challenges relate to staffing, such as skill shortages, retaining good staff, and the inconsistencies and expense of relying on agency workers. One perhaps surprising solution to some of these challenges is to employ more disabled people.

For a number of excellent reasons, when I talk about diversity to many NHS trusts and health care providers, they tell me about all the great initiatives on race and gender that they are currently focusing on. These are both very important, and it is good that diversity is being considered more seriously now. However, when I mention disability, quite often this isn’t considered as important as race, gender and sometimes LGBTQ+. Worse still, many employers still seem to equate employing disabled people with being some kind of expensive act of charity. The perception can be that disabled people are somehow inferior to non-disabled people; we may be seen as less productive, more likely to have time off sick, less reliable and probably requiring a lot of time and money.

It’s important to challenge this perception and to start thinking of disabled people as a largely untapped source of talent which brings much value with it. Despite the myths about disabled people, the reality is quite different.

When looking for talent, disabled people make up 20 per cent of people of working age in the UK. Excluding this group of people means excluding a significant pool of talent. Remember also that 83 per cent of disabled people acquired our disabilities in adulthood, and so most disabled people have the same diversity of education, qualifications and experience as the rest of the population.

In terms of productivity, a number of different studies conclude that disabled people are, on average, just as productive as non-disabled people. This means of course, that many are more productive. Someone with limited hand co-ordination may use dictation software, which tends to be quicker and more accurate than people using a keyboard, for example.

Much research concludes that on average disabled employees have significantly less time off sick than non-disabled employees. Someone with sight loss, or missing limbs are no more likely to have colds or infections than anyone else, of course, but more importantly, most disabled people are used to coping with symptoms or side-effects of medication on a daily basis, so feeling under the weather is unlikely to throw us. It’s also the case that disabled people stay in our jobs longer, therefore improving retention. Lower sickness absence and increased retention represents a huge saving of money for the NHS and leads to continuity of service for patients.

Another important benefit of employing disabled people is that patients are more likely to have confidence in an organisation which reflects the population. For people accessing services from the NHS, if there are people around who look like you, and have the same kind of lived experience as you, it gives you so much more confidence that the organisation understands.

Going back to accessing talent, becoming an ‘inclusive employer of choice’ means that attracting great talent will be much easier. Disabled people will have the confidence to apply, but the reach is much wider. Increasingly, all candidates are looking for employers who are ethical, and doing the right thing around social and environmental issues. Millennials in particularly are concerned about the social conscience of a potential employer. Every year 2 per cent of people of working age become disabled or acquire a long-term health condition, and knowing that the employer will look after them does a lot to raise morale amongst all candidates and existing staff.

If we can change the conversation about disabled people from, “Oh, what a shame for them,” to “How can we access this incredible pool of talent?” we could go a long way to addressing at least some of the challenges currently being faced in the health care sector. 

(Sources of evidence can be found in “A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People” written by Jane Hatton.)

Further information
Learn more about supporting disability in the workplace and the forthcoming NHS Workforce Disability Equality Standard.

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