Steps in the right direction - the WRES frontline forum

Tasmeen Warr


In this blog Tasmeen Warr, internal communications manager at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (UH Bristol) shares insights on the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) frontline forum, the forum was set-up by the national team to gather qualitative data against the WRES data.

On 31 January I had the honour of joining the Workforce Race Equality Standard frontline discussion forum for their first meeting of 2019. Commonly abbreviated to WRES, the WRES frontline forum is formed of NHS colleagues from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background.

In the NHS, our patients have equal access to care and treatment regardless of their ethnicity. This is a core belief of who we are as the NHS – it’s something we hold with pride. However, is this experience the same for the staff providing those services?

Around one in five of our colleagues are from a BME background, but data suggests that the general treatment and experiences of those staff in the workplace falls short of the values and principles of our NHS.

WRES helps NHS organisations highlight BME-related issues in their workforce by splitting out data against nine indicators. These indicators are centred on questions from the NHS staff survey and one indicator also looks at BME representation on boards.

The WRES frontline forum was originally set up by Yvonne Coghill, WRES director, to provide the NHS with feedback and insight as to what it is really like working as a BME person in England’s largest employer, but the group went above and beyond what they were set out to do.

In 2018 the group supported Windrush events in celebration of its 70 year anniversary, they presented at the King’s Fund conference on mental health and many of them have supported the set-up of reverse mentoring in their organisations.

The group of around 25 colleagues from across the NHS initially met over six sessions to discuss their experiences and the challenges they face as BME staff, but they also provided each other with support and empowered each other to help champion equality and diversity in their own organisations.

The meeting I attended was the first of a new cohort, being hosted by my own employer University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (UH Bristol). There was fantastic energy in the room - everyone hugged each other to say hello. Everyone was comfortable with each other....everyone was excited and the conversation naturally flowed.

In conversation

“The WRES forum and data is a way of nationalising the conversation.” explained David Harris, senior programme officer for WRES. The forum provides a dialogue to the NHS WRES data through real conversations and experiences of its BME staff.

Something that came across to me was how it can be difficult for BME staff to feel like they can start a conversation in their own organisations about race and equality. For some of the group, the forum was the first opportunity to talk about the issues they face and be listened to.

Gerald Dixon, hospital liaison manager for the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: “The WRES frontline forum was really the first opportunity I could talk about my experiences, and it was really good for my mental health. If you bottle things up, things can really drag you down.”

Dr David Ashton, who facilitates the forum sessions, commented: “I facilitate the forum in a way that those people involved have a safe place where they can explore and share their personal stories of being a BAME member of staff in the NHS. I then articulate these conversations back to the core WRES team.”

The group has provided each of its colleagues with a voice. The support and encouragement from the group has given the members the confidence to be able to talk about the issues they face, not only to each other but to senior colleagues, including board members.

Lorna Hayles, learning disability clinical nurse specialist, attends the group on behalf of UH Bristol and helped to set up a reverse mentoring scheme at the trust. Lorna said: “It seriously helps to have buy-in from your executive board, which I am pleased to have at my trust. “Jeff Farrar, our trust chair, was fully committed to implementing a reverse mentoring scheme at the trust – it was great to collaborate with him and our equality and diversity officer to set this up.”

I asked the group what was the one thing they were trying to achieve, the response was change. The first six sessions were all about providing insight to the NHS, and although the second cohort is continuing to provide this dialogue alongside the WRES data, the group are now shifting their focus to how they can make more positive changes in the NHS.

The WRES frontline forum is part of the bigger NHS wide drive towards making things better for BME staff. The NHS has a long journey ahead, but we are willingly taking steps in the right direction, and more and more people are coming on board.

Further Information

This blog was published as part of Equality Diversity and Human Rights Week 2019, learn more about diversity and inclusion in the NHS and the Workforce Race Equality Standard.

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