Case Study

Improving disability declaration rates at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Find out how Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation trust improved their disability declaration rates.

20 November 2023

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust increased their staff disability declaration rates by producing an innovative video which they launched via a roadshow across key trust sites. They also used the video and roadshow to champion disabled staff as role models and to introduce the EDI team to staff, highlighting them as a point of contact and support. 

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Increased disability declaration rate from 10.43 per cent to 11.61 per cent making the trust second in the country.
  • Staff with lived experience of disability championed as role models.
  • The EDI team became more known by staff as a point of contact and support.
  • Planned launch of a network of EDI champions.

What the organisation faced

The trust knew that their disability declaration score was comparatively high at 10.43 per cent, but there remained room for improvement, especially amongst medical and dental staff. They were motivated to improve rates to build a more accurate picture of the diversity of their workforce to better meet the diverse needs of staff. They also wanted to build relationships with staff, role model disabled staff and raise the profile of the EDI team. 

What the organisation did

The trust decided to apply for Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) Innovation Funding to support this project. They held an online listening event with staff to hear what they wanted the funding bid to look like. Overwhelmingly, staff fed back that they wanted to hear staff, including senior leaders, setting out why disability declaration was important to them. They also wanted an easy-to-follow animation setting out how to update their status on the Electronic Staff Record (ESR) and for the video to be launched via a roadshow, rather than through electronic communications alone. 

After this event, the trust shared the draft bid with the staff networks. They got feedback from a good cross section of people across relevant protected characteristics and Agenda for Change pay bands. As three members of the trust board were executive sponsors of staff networks there was already powerful buy in from them on the project.

Having been successful in their bid for £9,999 of WDES Innovation Fund funding under the Declaration Rates Award, the trust produced a two-part video in collaboration with Mind Wick Films. The first part of the video features intersectional deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent staff from a range of teams sharing their experiences and talking about the importance of adding their disability status to ESR. The second part of the video is a step-by-step animated guide to reviewing and completing all monitoring information on ESR, including disability status, and the best way to navigate the disability categories. Whist the video was made using SPFT staff, it was deliberately designed to be applicable to any NHS trust nationally. There are several versions of the video available, including versions with BSL and audio description, to make the video as accessible as possible.  

The trust released the video via a “soft launch” in an initial roadshow of six sites in February 2023. Members of the EDI team and the trust's health and wellbeing champions delivered the roadshows in person. At these roadshows, the video was played and provided to be watched individually. There was also a facility to update ESR privately then and there.

Within the rules of the Innovation Fund, there was a very tight turnaround for the project's completion. The organisation put forward the bid in summer 2022, to deliver the work by March 2023.

Results and benefits

The roadshow was very successful in engaging ward and bank staff, along with limited numbers of medical colleagues. The roadshow and video received excellent feedback, from both within the trust and from other NHS organisations who have asked to use the video. It also allowed senior staff with lived experience of disability to be championed as role models.

The roadshow offered an opportunity for staff who had not even considered themselves eligible for help or reasonable adjustments before, or those who were not aware of their rights as disabled staff or had never looked at their personal data on ESR. 

This project has increased the trust’s ESR disability declaration rate from 10.43 per cent to 11.61 per cent, making the trust the second highest in the country. This positive trend is expected to continue as information continues to spread and the programme of work extends beyond its original remit. For example, the organisation monitors its rates on a quarterly basis. 

The roadshow was also welcomed across all six sites as a means of connecting with the EDI team and finding out more about their work. The EDI team became more known by staff as a point of contact and support and overall engagement among deaf, disabled and neurodivergent staff improved.

The project also allowed the team to plan to launch a network of EDI champions who they had connected with at the roadshows. The network of EDI champions will build on the success of this project, encouraging more senior deaf, disabled and neurodivergent staff to step up as role models. This will further increase trust-wide confidence around sharing disability status and boost the membership of SPFT's eight staff networks. The idea of EDI champions was taken from the model of Freedom to Speak Up champions and health and wellbeing champions, who are already well-established in the trust. 

As a next step, the trust wants to do more work in another series of roadshows to specifically target new starters, night staff and medical/dental staff. Programme materials will also be used at the fortnightly trust inductions, to encourage new starters to check their equality and diversity data on ESR as part of their onboarding.

Overcoming obstacles

The team knew they wanted to work with a small, local filmmaker with lived experience of mental health issues and experience of working in the mental health sector. There were advantages and disadvantages to this approach. It was helpful to work with an organisation who understood disability issues and ethically good to work with a small organisation. However, delays arising during production meant the trust needed to be a bit flexible about deadlines.

An additional challenge was running a roadshow across such a geographically dispersed trust. SPFT has nearly 200 sites across East and West Sussex and Hampshire. The roadshow's six sites were chosen strategically to cover a range of different settings, including acute hospitals, trust headquarters, and community, administrative and corporate teams.  The roadshows also needed to be physically situated in the best place within each site to allow the team to reach the greatest number of staff on each site.

Takeaway tips

  • Find out what staff want before you start the project. The trust thought they knew how to engage with staff, but they didn’t understand how to maximise their reach. Had they not held a listening event, they would have launched the video online only, rather than at sites via a roadshow. 
  • Consider your communication methods to reach the widest possible audience.
  • Carefully pick who you want to be on the video, to feature a good range of staff and experience. 

Contact details

Emma Mendes da Costa (she/her)