Working together to peel back the layers of inequalities

Alice Sorby and Ludlow Johnson

As part of Black History season and wider work to improve race equality in the NHS, Alice Sorby, staff-side chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group (EDIG), and Ludlow Johnson, EDIG member and equality and diversity lead at South East Ambulance Service, highlight the work of the group and share good practice.

The NHS employs over 1 million workers. 20 per cent are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background - of which six per cent are black. The NHS touches every community, yet BAME staff face disproportionate bullying, harassment and discrimination at work; are more likely to face formal disciplinary processes; and have fewer opportunities for career progression.

Throughout COVID-19 staff have worked night and day, undertaking long hours, often not seeing their families and making huge personal sacrifices. At the same time, they have worked to maintain high standards of care in our hospitals up and down the country, whilst also seeing BAME colleagues dying from COVID-19.

Ensuring policies and practices do not discriminate

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group (EDIG) is a technical group of the NHS Staff Council, which works to ensure the NHS Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service handbook reflects best practice and that any changes to that handbook are equality impact assessed. In 2019 we updated part 5 of the handbook on equal opportunities, including sections 31 - recruitment, promotion and staff development, 32 - dignity at work, and 33 - balancing work and personal life. 

The changes sought to promote fair and non-discriminatory systems and equality of access, whilst at the same time supporting strong partnership working at a local level in order to bring them to life and make a difference for staff.

In addition, the EDIG has written advice on ensuring equality in pay progression systems with the goal of sharing good practice to support improvement across the whole sector. We support our members - employer and trade union representatives - to work in partnership to implement better approaches to recruitment and selection, career support and development. Our ultimate ambition is to ensure that policies and practices do not discriminate or impact disproportionately.

Protecting BAME staff during the pandemic

The EDIG also provides an opportunity to share good practice. The South Central Ambulance Service has taken steps to protect BAME staff and make them feel psychologically safe to discuss their health needs during the pandemic and beyond.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME staff and communities was prioritised by the senior leadership team, the CEO approved the trust’s decision to contact its BAME staff members and understand the impact of the virus on BAME staff. The trust also wanted to seek assurances from its staff that there was in place adequate support for their wellbeing, personal safety and that of their families.

Two senior managers were tasked with contacting 160 BAME staff by phone to ensure that, where necessary, staff had adequate PPE, were fully supported and if they and their families had any further requirements.

As a result, the trust was able to identify BAME staff who had either tested positive for the virus or were self-isolating with symptoms and other personal family support requirements. They were then able to fast track to the health and wellbeing hub those members of staff with existing needs. All BAME staff had direct access to the two designated senior managers should any further issues arise.

This engagement was well received by BAME staff, who expressed gratitude and pride in working for a caring organisation. 

Making the NHS a truly inclusive service

We must all work together to begin to peel back the layers of inequalities that pervade our generation. Each and every one of us in our respective spaces can help make the NHS a truly inclusive service where everyone belongs.

“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” Wole Soyinka, Nigerian author, playright, and the first African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Further information

Learn more about the role of the NHS Staff Council and take a look at our new race equality in the NHS infographic which highlights findings from the Workforce Race Equality Standard report and key actions to help tackle some of the inequalities. 

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